State hopes $1.7 million telemedicine program will boost rural emergency services – Mitchell Republic


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Authorities and paramedics at the South Dakota Emergency Medical Service (EMS) hope a partnership between the state and a Sioux Falls-based telemedicine provider will strengthen rural emergency medical service.

The partnership with Avel eCare addresses viability issues for South Dakota’s 130 emergency services.

Several emergency services operate in areas up to an hour’s drive from a nearby hospital, particularly in West River. With rural communities shrinking and a shortage of rural volunteer rescue workers, lifesaving services in rural South Dakota are at risk of disappearing.

Gov. Kristi Noem and state legislatures approved three initiatives in 2022 that contributed up to $20 million to EMS. Telemedicine in Motion is the first of the $1.7 million initiatives.

Kristi Noem, Gov. of South Dakota


Other initiatives include upgrades to ambulance services’ LIFEPAK 15 patient monitors and defibrillators, and a study of South Dakota’s ambulance services and potential solutions.

Brian Ring, president of the South Dakota EMS Association and a 25-year volunteer paramedic with the Onida Fire and Emergency Services Department, said each of these initiatives is of the utmost importance to ensure the health and safety of South Dakota residents.

“If someone calls an ambulance, they expect it to show up,” Ring said. “If there aren’t enough people around to order that and make a call, they have to call the nearest ambulance, which can be 30 miles away – and that’s if they have enough staff to cover theirs and you.” to help. That is a big concern.”

The funding leads to better patient care

The telemedicine program connects EMS volunteers or staff with board-certified emergency physicians and registered nurses directly in the ambulance.

“This initiative will improve the coordination of care between our EMS providers and hospitals,” Joan Adam, DOH’s cabinet secretary, said in a press release.

Humboldt, a town of fewer than 600 people in southeast South Dakota, will be one of the first emergency services to install the video link in their ambulance. The partnership includes free installation, training, software and hardware, as well as support and a telemedicine subscription for professional consulting services.

Susan Shumaker, Paramedic for Humboldt Fire and Ambulance.

(John Hult/South Dakota Searchlight)

Humboldt Fire and Ambulance relies heavily on volunteers. The service has 34 members, eight of whom are trained in advanced life support. Humboldt’s 12 paramedics are volunteers, and most of them are also volunteer firefighters, said Susan Shumaker, paramedic for Humboldt Fire and Ambulance.

The city is a half-hour drive from the nearest hospital in Sioux Falls, but the drive takes 45 to 60 minutes when volunteers travel to Salem or Bridgewater to intercept or assist community ambulances.

“(This initiative) doesn’t replace a person in the background,” Shumaker said, “but that person can get help or advice on how to better treat this patient.” Some volunteers don’t do this very often so this tool will help them feel more confident about their treatment.”

The sustainability of rural ambulances requires improved recruitment

Shumaker hopes the partnership will help with recruitment. The Humboldt department is doing well, but Shumaker said the crew is smaller than it used to be.

“If people want to continue living in these smaller towns, we need to find some recruitment and support to keep those services going or we’re going to lose them,” Shumaker said. β€œThe number of firefighters and paramedics is getting older. This could be a way to prevent volunteers from feeling at the mercy of wolves, which could make recruitment easier.”

Officials plan to support 60 emergency services through “telemedicine on the move” by spring 2023. The press release did not specify how long the telemedicine subscription lasts. Even so, Ring believes the investment will benefit South Dakotans.

“If it gets used and is worth it like I expect, I think it’s going to be a very good deal for ambulances in South Dakota,” Ring said. “We will see.”