Rural Nebraska town battles severe staff shortage, forcing residents to wait an hour or more for an ambulance

One Nebraska town is reeling from the effects of a severe ambulance shortage, forcing some residents to wait more than one hour in the event of a medical emergency. 

When residents in Merriman call 911, some ambulances have to come from South Dakota and others from a town that is 60 miles away in another time zone. Rose Chappell, a medical technician in the town, described the situation on “FOX & Friends First” Friday.

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“Depending on which service can respond, they have to wait for that one. So you’re looking at – if Bennett County [S.D.] is available, at least 45 minutes with the response time. If they’re not available immediately, then it would be over an hour.”

Chappell, who is the last emergency technician in her town, said the consequences of staffing shortages have unfortunately been deadly for some who haven’t received timely medical attention. She also noted the town’s shortage is due to the declining population, which is only comprised of dozens of residents. 

“We cover a pretty large area, so there are places where it takes us in Merriman over an hour to get to, depending where that’s at,” Chappell said. 

“It’s devastating for a lot of people to have to wait that long, and there have been deaths, but unfortunately, we just don’t have the personnel any longer.”

Nearly 4.5 million Americans live in rural areas that take emergency services at least 25 minutes to get to, according to the Maine Rural Health Research Center and the Rural Health Research Centers, and some experts warn that number could climb. 

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The National Association of State EMS Officials Deputy Executive Director Andy Gienapp warned the issue plaguing rural Nebraska is not exclusive to the Cornhusker State, and could worsen in agrarian areas nationwide. 

“It’s not just Nebraska,” Gienapp said. “I would suggest to you that every state which has a significant rural portion of its territory, is experiencing much the same thing. So I don’t think that any state gets to say we’ve got this all figured out. There are places all over the United States where responses be well in excess of 25 minutes in trying to get care there, so it’s a big problem.”

“It’s rooted in some long-term problems and it’s super complex, and we need to start having serious conversations about this now or we’re going to hear this story repeated over and over again,” he continued. 

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