Cedar County looks to guarantee 911 calls get answers

MCM Consulting Group analyzed the situation and suggested improvements which led to asking if voters want to fund a county-wide ambulance service.
Published: Sep. 19, 2023 at 11:05 PM CDT
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TIPTON, Iowa (KCRG) - At a town hall in Tipton Tuesday night, an expert said Cedar County is two to four years away from being in crisis when it comes to emergency medical services.

A referendum on the ballot this November is asking if voters want to fund a county-wide ambulance service.

Jodi Freet, Director of Cedar County Emergency Management, said there are six ambulance services and two first responder services in the county, and they’re staffed largely by volunteers.

“There are times where ambulances just aren’t available,” said Freet. “We love our volunteers, but they can’t be everywhere and they can’t be volunteering all the time.”

She said because crews are volunteer-based finding an ambulance can take time.

“We’ve had situations in Cedar County where, if someone is having a heart attack, it’s taken over 20 minutes to get an ambulance to them,” she added.

After finding a crew, there’s the time it actually take for the ambulance to get to the patient and then to take the patient to a hospital.

Those wait times are long, but there are no rules or laws that say they can’t be.

“Right now when you call 911 you are not guaranteed an ambulance. And I know that sounds, that’s a really foreign concept. You are guaranteed law enforcement and fire departments, but you’re not guaranteed an ambulance,” Freet added.

In 2021, Governor Kim Reynolds signed a law. saying that communities could declare emergency medical services essential. That’s what Cedar County is now trying to do, with officials holding a town hall Tuesday night, educating the public about the referendum voters will see in November.

If passed it would mean two staffed ambulances on duty 24 hours a day., plus a volunteer EMT unit when staffing is available..

We don’t want to shut down anybody’s ambulance. If you want to have keep your ambulance service, you can keep it. This is meant to be a backup. And to cover times when volunteer ambulances don’t have a crew,” said Bruce Barnhart, a member of the Cedar County Board of Supervisors.

The change would mean an increase in property taxes 75 cents for every 1000 dollars of assessed value, but these leaders say the impact would be huge.

“The difference is time,” said Freet. “Time is everything in some critical medical situations.”