Rural ambulance costs high, rising in Gogebic County


October 13, 2018

Editor’s note: This is the second story in a three-part series on the Nov. 6 ambulance millage vote for Gogebic County.


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While Beacon Ambulance presently provides ambulance service to much of Gogebic County, the eastern end, in the Watersmeet area, is served by Aspirus out of Iron River, at an annual cost of $43,000 a year.

Residents of that area are out of the “golden hour” that can determine life and death in a 911 emergency response call, said Jim Lorenson, chair of the Aspirus Ironwood Hospital board.

There were nearly 2,200 emergency 911 ambulance calls in Gogebic County in 2017, or about six per day.

Beacon has an ambulance stationed in Marenisco, operated by volunteers, in addition to the rigs operated in the Hurley-Ironwood area.

Studies show it costs about four times more to operate ambulance services per capita in a rural area, as compared to urban settings.

Per capita rural costs are from $5 to $6 a month, while the Michigan average is $1.67.

“I don’t see the state or federal government stepping in to help us out,” Lorenson said, referring to the reason the one-mill ambulance proposal is on the Nov. 6 Gogebic County ballot. The mill would raise $523,548.

He said Beacon’s dilemma is not any different than many other ambulance companies throughout the nation.

Jim Loeper, Gogebic County Emergency Government Coordinator, said Baraga County in the Upper Peninsula is experiencing the same problems as Gogebic County.

Earlier this year and again this week, Loeper emphasized it’s difficult to conduct emergency medical technician classes to train new attendants, as the cost of putting on the classes is practically unaffordable. He also said regulations make it tough to teach an EMT class.

He said he no longer teaches the classes.

There’s also a burn-out factor with paramedics because it’s a tough, sometimes around the clock, job. Turn-over of employees can be high.

Backers of the millage said it’s important that voters know that Aspirus Ironwood Hospital is not seeking to force out Beacon. The Ironwood hospital has no intentions of taking over the ambulance service, according to information provided at a discussion session this week. Aspirus rigs are used for transporting patients and that has taken away some business from Beacon, it was learned earlier this year. That’s a factor in the $50,000 a month Beacon has been losing to provide ambulance services here.

If the millage fails, ambulance service in Gogebic County would likely discontinue.

Next, part 3: New mandates and declining reimbursements.


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