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On Rural Health Day, FEMA Steps in to Help Minnesota Amid COVID
Minnesota Ag Connection - 11/20/2020

Thursday was National Rural Health Day, a time to draw attention to the strides made in providing healthcare across rural America as well as remind rural residents of safety precautions, the benefits of a healthy lifestyle, opioid prevention and mental health resources.

In Minnesota, healthcare workers across the board got the help they need while COVID-19 is putting hospital beds at or near capacity and taking a toll on staffing levels, it's evident that hospitals are strained.

This is also affecting others on the frontline, the men and women responsible for relocating critically ill COVID patients to free up space.

"The paramedics and EMT's are the ones that are out there moving these patients on a day to day basis," said Bruce Hilderbrandt, president of the Minnesota Ambulance Association.

As a result, help is on the way. After a request from the state, FEMA is sending in 25 staffed ambulances to assist with these transport missions.

"There will be sixty to sixty-five staff that will come with the twenty-five ambulances," said Hildebrandt.

According to the Minnesota Department of Health, the demand for relocating COVID patients has increased over 493% in the last three weeks and is still rising.

A statement from MDH reads in part: "Hospitals in the state are initiating load-balancing functions for medical surgical beds which will sharply increase the need for ground inter-facility transport. Background here: Hospitals are trying to create surge capacity by transferring some non-critical patients into other facilities so they can expand their surge and critical care capacity. The patients are those who may not be ready for discharge but still need care, so transferring allows them to be cared for at other facilities. If you're going to move the patients, they have to be moved by qualified ambulance services. 68 of 103 ambulance services surveyed in the State last week anticipated needing State and Federal assistance if the expected surge continues and gets worse. Background here: Ambulance services have to continue to provide 911 services, they can't be doing all transfers all the time; many ambulance services are also experiencing staffing shortages. In many cases, COVID-19 has depleted staffing to critical levels, leaving many rural communities with a single staffed ambulance unable to make multi-hour transports and urban areas with significant delays for inter-facility transport."

"Most of the transfers that we're encountering right now are basic life support and even wheelchair type transfers," said Hildebrandt.

For Prescott, the extra help will serve as a much needed stress reliever.

"People are working beyond their capacity, but they're coming in because they know people need to be moved," said Prescott.

"The EMT's and the paramedics that are out there, we're kind of the forgotten frontline workers," said Hildebrandt.

However, for these frontline workers seemingly forgotten, they say they haven't forgotten about you.

"We're in it for the long haul," said Hildebrandt.

According to MDH, the ambulances and staff will go to Camp Ripley to begin with on Nov. 20, and will be deployed around the state as needed. The EMS Regulatory Board and an EMS Multi-Agency Coordination Center (MACC) will assist with coordination of resources and matching transport with transfer needs as identified by the Critical Care Coordination Center (C4).

The deployment ends on Dec. 4, but Minnesota will likely make the request to keep them for an additional two weeks. FEMA doesn't have to keep them here, they could be redeployed to other states if there are more critical needs elsewhere, but we need to resubmit our request every two weeks.

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