FOREST CITY | The Winnebago County Board of Supervisors is considering a county paramedic service to ensure access for areas outside of Forest City.
The Forest City Paramedic Service, which works closely with the Forest City Volunteer Ambulance Service, also responds to calls in places like Buffalo Center and Lake Mills for the more severe medical conditions and injuries volunteer ambulance crews aren't trained to handle.
Dale Rayhons, Forest City Paramedics supervisor, told the County Board of Supervisors during their Jan. 15 meeting that rule changes being considered by the state, plus a lack of available paramedics, might affect his department's ability to respond to calls outside of Forest City.
Forest City Paramedics, like other paramedic services, is having trouble with staffing because the labor supply isn't enough to keep up with the demand.
The Forest City service used to have four full-time paramedics but will be down to two by the end of January, according to Rayhons.
"I can't find enough medics," Rayhons said. "It's a dog-eat-dog, cutthroat world out there for medics right now."
He has received permission from the city of Forest City to hire some part-time paramedics, but there's still times when there's only one medic on duty.
When that happens, the medic might not be able to respond to calls outside the Forest City service area, according to Rayhons.
Depending on what happens at the state level a year or two down the road, that might be against regulations, he said.
Asking the Mason City Fire Department or Clear Lake to respond to medical calls in Winnebago County isn't an option because "they are hurting just as bad" when it comes to finding medics, Rayhons said.
He also said not having a hospital in Winnebago County makes the whole situation worse.
A county ambulance service would be one solution, but to do that "we are looking at big tax dollars," he said.
Besides, "We need the local volunteers," he said.
Rayhons said the great response by EMS crews from smaller towns to the Jan. 1 crash five miles northwest of Forest City that injured 10 people "just shows what our volunteers can do."
He said a county paramedic service that could assist the local EMS volunteers would be a less expensive solution than a county ambulance service.
Rayhons suggested having the county fund one full-time paramedic to be stationed where he or she could respond to calls in the Lake Mills and Buffalo Center areas, as well as the Forest City area if needed.
Rayhons said although a county paramedic service would be less expensive than a county ambulance service, "it's still going to cost a lot of dollars."
In order to fund the service, the county would need to levy an EMS tax, according to Rayhons. This would require voter approval.
County Supervisor Terry Durby said he'd like to explore the idea of an income tax surcharge instead of a property tax levy so property owners wouldn't have to carry the entire burden.
County Supervisor Bill Jensvold said the board is considering hosting community forums on public health, and EMS could be added to the discussion.
"Do they (the public) want to have emergency services or are they willing to wait an extra half hour while they are having their heart attack?" he said.