January 25, 2022

Sheriff’s office wants to provide more medical services

CARES Act money would fund new program providing relief to EMS volunteers

To reduce wait times for emergency medical services calls and improve the quality of life for citizens, the Jasper County Sheriff’s Office is working to expand the skills and services of its deputies.

During the Jasper County Board of Supervisors meeting on Dec. 28, sheriff John Halferty gave a presentation about the ongoing efforts and future plans to improve the emergency medical services his department can provide.

“I just want to say before I start that I have a lot of great ideas in my head, but my staff are the ones who really deserve the credit for putting all this together,” Halferty said.

Almost the entirety of Halferty’s presentation focused on the current state of the county’s volunteer EMS programs and how the sheriff’s office wants to shoulder some of that work.

“I have been volunteering with several agencies throughout the county for more than 22 years. So this report isn’t just coming from a sheriff, but also from someone who works within the system,” Halferty said.

The proposal consisted of several parts, but at the heart of it was for the board to approve his office to use the county’s additional CARES Act money to purchase extra equipment and fund extra shifts for deputies.

Halferty said two deputies are certified and work as volunteer paramedics, but due to a lack of equipment and his office not being certified by the state to provide paramedic-level care to patients, the two deputies are not allowed to operate at their full capacity when on-duty.

All of Halferty’s deputies are trained and certified to preform basic life-saving, which mainly consists of CPR and the proper use of automated external defibrillators. But due to the sheriff’s office only requiring BLS training, it is only certified by the state to administer that level of care.

Regardless of their individual level of skill, when officers respond to medical emergencies they are not allowed to administer any medications or more advanced care while on scene.

So to combat this untapped resource and provide some relief to the already overworked EMS volunteers, Halferty proposed his office apply to the state and become authorized to provide paramedic-level care when responding to medical calls and allow any deputies who have paramedic certification to prioritize medical calls.

WHAT THEY’RE WORKING WITH

To help the supervisors better understand the stress the current volunteer EMS service is under, Halferty walked them through how a normal emergency call usually plays out for the volunteer EMS who respond.

“Our dispatch center receives twice as many medical emergency calls compared to fire emergency calls,” Halferty said. “But due to relying on volunteer paramedics, our county’s EMS can be slow to respond.”

Right now, according to his report, people experiencing a medical emergency usually have to wait sometime between 30 to 40 minutes for help to arrive.

When a call comes in the volunteers have to drop what they are doing at home or at work, make their way to their station, then take the ambulance to the person experiencing the emergency.

“Our volunteers are great at their jobs, but sometimes they are just stretched to thin. Right now 5 to 10 percent of volunteers who are certified paramedics are providing around 90 percent of emergency calls,” Halferty said. “Most EMS and firefighting services are combined, but there are far more medical emergencies than fires, so the few members who are certified paramedics receive many more call outs than their firefighting counterparts.”

This high demand put on such a small number of qualified volunteers is the main reason behind Halferty’s proposal.

THE PROPOSAL

Documents provided during the meeting cited six different proposed items that Halferty believes if implemented within his own office will improve the state of the county’s current EMS services, help reduce wait times and take some of the demand off volunteers.

Halferty’s proposal advocated for allowing marked patrol units with reserve deputies – who are qualified paramedics and have completed training – to work up to six- to 12-hour shifts, during which they would handle some normal patrol duties but would prioritize and respond to any EMS calls that came in during their shift.

Other items also include the purchase of specific, advanced life saving medical equipment, while also allowing existing patrol units to utilize more equipment.

The proposal documents also provided a cost estimate for implementing the new program.

According to the proposal, “the funds will be used for two reserve deputy/paramedics working a total of twelve 12-hour shifts each month, during peak periods for EMS calls, at $300 each shift total to $43,000.”

But through the efforts of Lt. Brad Shutts’ original application in 2020, the county received an additional $181,000 in undesignated CARE Act funds. The proposal stated these funds could be used for this project and “would benefit not just the sheriff’s office, but our EMS services and ultimately our citizens as well.”

LONG-TERM PLANS

Another part of the agreement also says within 18 months the program will be examined by the board to determine if it’s producing the desired results.

“Even though I think this program will be successful it is my duty to Jasper County’s residents to make sure that this money is being used in the most effective way possible. So hopefully after 18 months we will be able to look at our established program and determine if it works if it’s running as efficiently as possible,” Halferty said.

The board voted to approve Halferty’s proposal.

The target start date for the new program is March 1.

Contact Abby Knipfel at 641-792-4687 ext. 6531 or aknipfel@shawmedia.com

Abby Knipfel

Abby "Adler" Knipfel

Journalist at Newton Daily News. Currently covering Jasper County and writing passionate opinion pieces. They/Them