Written by Vicki Viall
The Wolf Point community is in the midst of an ambulance crisis.
In December, one of Wolf Point’s two ambulances was taken out of service due to a damaged drive shaft which caused additional problems. Repairs on the damaged ambulance were determined to be too costly.
Since then, there have been instances where the one functioning ambulance was out of town transporting a patient and local law enforcement agencies had to transport patients to Northeast Montana Health Services’ Wolf Point campus.
At any event happening in Wolf Point that required an attending emergency responder, two trained personnel were on site equipped with a full emergency kit. And, in the event of an emergency, the ambulance would have been called to that location, said NEMHS.
The Wolf Point Police Department said they had transported, on separate occasions, patients in need of medical attention. That, according to them, constitutes a class 3 violation by transporting a patient to a medical facility in a conveyance other than an ambulance.
The Roosevelt County Sheriff’s Office and the 911 Center both said that, though the loss of a vehicle has caused moments of inconvenience, there have been no life-threatening situations. It was acknowledged that similar situations have occurred when two ambulances were in service in the past.
Northeast Montana Health Services – Wolf Point is a critical access hospital and, as such, not obligated to operate an ambulance service, said NEMHS. Because of the hospital’s concern for the community, NEMHS has made the decision to provide ambulance service.
NEMHS’ ambulance service is staffed by volunteers. Their response time is expected to be within seven minutes of the receipt of a call. NEMHS’ goal, however, has been five minutes.
Additionally, Wolf Point is a rural community and spread over a wide area, making it sometimes difficult to locate a patient. This volunteer staff must be trained and current certification maintained. Because of a shortage of volunteers within Wolf Point, some of the volunteers travel from Glasgow and Fort Belknap to assist Wolf Point.
Long before the motor pool was cut in half, NEHMS had applied for a matching grant to purchase a custom-made ambulance. The grant, which was approved, was made through the Montana Department of Transportation. NEHMS was required to pay 10 percent of the total cost. That amounted to $15,211. The remaining $136,901 was paid for by the grant. Delivery of the ambulance was original anticipated for July 2013. That date was pushed to November and then to February. It’s expected delivery date is now March 23.
The cost to repair a soon-to-be obsolete ambulance would have run, at a minimum, $5,000. The now out-of-service vehicle is a MediTech ambulance. MediTech ambulances are no longer built or serviced, so NEMHS determined that repairing it for the amount required would not have been feasible.
When Wolf Point’s ambulance went out of commission on New Year’s Eve, Culbertson’s second vehicle was borrowed. The agreement was the vehicle would be returned upon receipt of a new vehicle or the beginning of the spring rise in emergency calls. Culbertson experienced an unexpected rise in calls and asked for the vehicle back. Expecting a new vehicle at any time, Wolf Point returned the vehicle.
During the last fiscal year, the number of calls received requesting an ambulance resulted in 2,287 runs. This current fiscal year, July 2013 through January, that number has been 1,200.
NEMHS CEO Peg Norgaard expressed her gratitude to the Roosevelt County Sheriff’s Office, Wolf Point Police Department, Poplar Police Department and Fort Peck Tribes Department of Law and Justice. She said, without them, NEMHS could not do what they do.