Nobles County talks need for more people to join emergency medical services

“People have left in droves,” McNab said, citing a 2021 study in Minnesota that showed more than 55% of EMS workers walked off the job after COVID-19 and never returned.

FILE PHOTO: An ambulance in Worthington, Thursday, May 12, 2022.
FILE PHOTO: An ambulance in Worthington, Thursday, May 12, 2022.
Kari Lucin / The Globe

WORTHINGTON — Sanford Worthington Ambulance Service Director David McNab talked about staffing concerns with Nobles County commissioners during a Wednesday morning work session. McNab was asked to speak about the issue in hopes the county could assist with the situation.

“... Why didn’t we table the discussion on something that they came forward with and said at the very beginning, ‘we’ve never done this in Nobles County before,’" Carol added.
“It’s a great school, it’s almost like a family. I really connect with these kids here. I just have a lot of love in my heart for these kids.”
“I’ve not had one person talk to me and say ‘Boy, that’s a huge safety concern. We need to spend a bunch of county funds to improve that.’”

In his 29th year with the ambulance service in Worthington, McNab said he’s perplexed by the difficulty in finding people willing to work in emergency medical services.

“People have left in droves,” McNab said, citing a 2021 study in Minnesota that showed more than 55% of EMS workers walked off the job after COVID-19 and never returned.

“That’s a five- to 10-year replacement program — if you can get people talked into it,” McNab said. “I don’t know if it’s the pay, it’s the hours … you see it in different cycles.”

A shortage of EMS workers isn’t impacting just Nobles County and the communities within its borders. It’s a concern in many rural communities across Greater Minnesota.


McNab, who also serves on a small town fire department in Nobles County, said he thinks volunteerism is going away, particularly with small town EMS services where people aren’t reimbursed like larger operations for calls.

“Also, you don’t have the younger people sticking around these smaller towns,” he said.

While Sanford Health has done some investing in education and reimbursement, McNab said some of the issue comes from insurance reimbursement. Some people have insurance; others don’t.

“There’s also abuse of the ambulance service throughout the nation,” McNab said, noting that people with mobility issues choose not to use their own transportation, but instead call the ambulance when they need medical care.

McNab said they are trying to get more staff hired to fill EMS roles locally, but it’s a challenge.

Food vendors open daily at 11 a.m. Friday through Sunday.
Food vendors to open at 11 a.m. Friday at Worthington's Sailboard Beach.
“Just come down and bring the kids, and we’ll have some fun activities planned,” Holinka said.

He said Sanford Worthington Ambulance currently has 29 people on staff, but only 16 are active employees and just seven are full-time.

“That reduces what you can do,” he said.

Still, McNab considers the local area fortunate to be part of a system where they can have full-time staff to operate an ambulance. Smaller communities don’t have that luxury.


McNab told commissioners that one thing they could potentially help with is getting EMS classified as an essential service in Minnesota. It currently is not. In fact, just 11 states across the country recognize EMS as an essential service.

Getting that recognition, McNab said, would “open the door to a lot more state resources — funding, reimbursement — it’s just a whole different facet.”

Between the two ambulance services that operate in Nobles County — Adrian and Sanford Worthington — McNab said they had over 2,000 calls last year. Fire departments in the county, meanwhile, responded to 175 to 180 calls during the year.

“If we can get EMS recognized as an essential service in Minnesota, that would be very helpful,” McNab said.

Commissioner Bob Demuth Jr. said when he attends regional meetings, he’s heard that Nobles County is the envy of others who solely operate a volunteer ambulance service.

“We’re just very fortunate … that we do have the Sanford Ambulance available to us,” Demuth said.

McNab said the ambulance service is happy to be in Worthington and wants to continue to provide the service.

“We know where we need to go — we just need to figure out how to get there,” he added. “I think we have some work to do with the younger generations being interested in this sort of work.


“It’s a very necessary service,” he added.

Commissioner Gene Metz said maybe the county could offer some payment for education, or payment for time that volunteers respond to a call.

“The county looked a few years ago at some funding,” Metz said.

“Money always helps,” replied McNab. “Right now, the biggest issue goes back to manpower. You have to find the people willing to work and willing to train.”

Commissioner Bob Paplow said younger people need to realize how rewarding it can be to work in emergency services.

“You literally have somebody’s life in your hands if you’re an EMT — even a first responder,” agreed McNab.

Wednesday’s discussion was just that. Commissioners made no formal recommendation about how the county may help, as they cannot take official action during a work session.

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