‘A little bit of help so we can help you’: New Glarus Area EMS seeks donations for improvements in the face of funding challenges

Rural EMS faces challenges in funding, staffing

NEW GLARUS, Wis. – While emergency medical service workers’ focus is on saving lives, they also need the funds to do so, and securing that money is not as easy as some may think.

New Glarus Area EMS has a full-time chief, part-time administrative assistant and 18 volunteers, serving 88 square miles and about 5,500 people – a mostly rural population that can easily grow.

“When we have festivals, that can increase to four or five times that amount just for one entire weekend,” Chief Kristie Mueller said.

The service answers more than 400 calls a year, also providing mutual aid to nearby communities.

“No one day is like the one before it,” said Josh Wescott, the part-time assistant and advanced emergency medical technician with the service.

On people’s worst days, EMS workers like Wescott are essential.

“It really can be incredibly rewarding to know you’re the last line of defense in the middle of a medical emergency,” he said. “I think some assume that 911 services, right, is just something taken care of or somebody else funds that.”

Wescott acknowledged people might be surprised to learn that in most states, Wisconsin included, EMS is not considered an essential service in the same way as police and fire.

“EMS is not the same,” Mueller said. “They’re not considered essential enough to be needed in communities.”

Mueller said not having that designation closes the door on funding opportunities.

“We’re hoping legislation is passed and at some point in time it does become essential,” she said.

Wescott said part of the reason is that EMS services are relatively new, taking off in the 1970s.

“It’s evolving really quickly,” he said.

Funding for New Glarus Area EMS is provided in part by run revenue and tax dollars, with district residents paying $19 a year. Grants and fundraising also play a big role. Wescott estimated donations make up more than 20% of yearly budgets, and will be key to planned capital improvements.

New Glarus Area EMS is in the beginning of a fundraising campaign, recently launching a GoFundMe page, to bring about improvements including new heart equipment, which can cost tens of thousands of dollars, along with replacements for decades-old protective gear. Down the road, later phases of the plan call for new ambulances and space for volunteers.

“I think it would be a great morale booster for our members, volunteers we have,” Mueller said. “They’re volunteers. They deserve to have places to be able to sleep when they’re down here, to be able to sleep comfortably.”

“We’re here and we could use a little bit of help so we can help you,” Wescott said.

The structure of EMS agencies looks different organization to organization, but Wescott said many problems are universal.

“This is a big issue not just facing us,” Wescott said. “Rural EMS in general always faces challenges in funding, faces challenges in making sure you have personnel. It’s a continuous process to recruit people, and it asks a lot of them.”

New Glarus Area EMS is working toward better days, with their community playing an essential part.

“The nice thing about small towns, rural communities, is people really do rally together and really pull together,” Wescott said. “We’ve started to see some of that already here.”

So far, they’ve raised about $40,000. Mueller knows it will take time, but the total goal for a three-phased plan is $1.4 million.

She said the GoFundMe page recently showing up in a segment of the HBO Show Last Week Tonight on EMS services has drawn some new attention to their efforts. The GoFundMe page can be found here.