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Wisconsin EMS Crisis: Staffing Shortages and Funding Gaps Threaten Rural Emergency Services

Emergency medical services (EMS) in Wisconsin are facing a crisis due to staffing shortages and funding gaps. This has led to unreliable EMS operations and closures, particularly in rural areas, putting communities at risk. A 2023 report from the Wisconsin Office of Rural Health found that over 40% of state EMS agencies had staffing gaps with no available ambulance for emergency calls.

For decades, Wisconsin's EMS agencies have relied on volunteers, with 79% of the state depending on them for 9-1-1 call staffing. However, the demands of family and work have made it difficult to maintain a sufficient number of volunteers. Some EMS operations have adopted unique employment models, such as the combination model, which employs full-time, part-time, and community volunteers.

The lack of staffing has led to closures, such as Lake Mills EMS in Jefferson County. Many EMS agencies have entered into consolidation agreements with neighboring communities to save money. Temporary funding solutions include asking residents for more money through ballot referendums.

EMS officials are seeking stable funding from the state, requesting $500 million for the two-year budget. State Sen. Jesse James has expressed support for EMS services, but he is uncertain if the $500 million amount will be approved. EMS providers also need funding for recruitment efforts to attract more potential employees.

Over the last decade, ambulance patient numbers have nearly doubled, but the number of EMS providers has only increased by 5%. EMS leaders estimate that 25% of all licensed EMS providers may let their licenses lapse this renewal year. Despite the challenges, there is hope that state lawmakers will address this urgent issue.

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