The programs aim to help rural medical services in South Dakota

Dr Matthew Owens

Emergency medical services in rural America are in crisis.

The difficulties in recruiting emergency medical technicians and the financial constraints of emergency medical services agencies are the main causes of this crisis.

The majority of South Dakota is considered a medically underserved area, indicating an insufficient number of primary care providers, high infant mortality, high poverty, or a high elderly population. Most of the area is also designated as rural or border, which increases the likelihood of extended transport times to inpatient medical care.

Medically underserved rural and border areas have historically been served by volunteer emergency medical services. Seventy-three percent of South Dakota’s emergency medical services agencies use volunteers. In 2016, 32% of voluntary organizations reported missed calls due to understaffing. These conditions have led to a disparity in the death rate for injuries for rural residents.

An ad hoc group made up of the University of South Dakota School of Medicine, the South Dakota State Medical Association, Northeast and West Region Health Education Centers River, Sanford Academic Affairs EMS Outreach, and Redfield Community Memorial Hospital received funding from the US Department of Labor. and the Addiction and Mental Health Services Administration to address the emergency medical services crisis in South Dakota and improve health outcomes for rural residents.

For many students, a grant is available to cover the costs of the EMT training available at Sanford EMS Outreach. Synchronous online courses can be taken by the student at home, while the practical portion may require travel on weekends.

In addition, members of the ad hoc group have developed the Dakota Responder classroom program, the goal of which is to train more people. Through a unique collaboration with Agtegra, a farmer-owned grain and agronomics cooperative with more than 6,300 owner-members in eastern North and South Dakota, the Dakota Responder courses will initially be made available to employees of the ‘Agtegra. Those who attend classes will be trained to provide emergency care for severe bleeding, opioid overdose, and the use of automatic defibrillators. Agtegra workers in rural Dakota are well positioned to provide life-saving care until EMS personnel arrive on the scene.

Ultimately, the goal is to increase the number of paramedics trained to staff rural emergency medical service centers and improve emergency response times. To encourage this effort in your community, share this information with your neighbors and contact your lawmakers and county commissioners to urge them to support the local emergency medical services centers where you live.

Dr Matthew Owens practices family medicine in Redfield. He is a contributing columnist for Prairie Doc. For free and easy access to the entire Prairie Doc® library, visit