October 2, 2013

More ambulance coverage needed

By Kate Ruggles
Farmer Staff Writer

For the last few years, statistics have shown that McKenzie County’s roadways and highways are the deadliest and most dangerous in North Dakota. But over the past few years, the numbers have also shown that western North Dakota, in general, leads the state in crashes and traffic fatalities.
These figures, when taken in conjunction with the fact that ambulance stations and hospitals are sparsely located throughout this region, have raised concern among the North Dakota Association of Oil and Gas Producing Counties (NDAOGPC).
“Ambulance service is not readily available in much of western North Dakota, because though it is rapidly growing, much of the area is still pretty remote and considered to be frontier,” states Vicky Steiner, executive director of the NDAOGPC. “So what we set out to do is to collect data and see where the greatest needs were in terms of ambulance service.”
Steiner states that the NDAOGPC dedicated $60,000 for the study, and Mike Schnetzer, senior GIS analyst for the study states that a number of variables were considered when conducting the study.
“The study only looked at the 19 oil and gas-producing counties in North Dakota and analyzed the variables of population, proximity to cities, DOT crash locations, and ambulance runs,” states Schnetzer. “The study identified five clusters of areas that were deemed the worst hotspots because of their proximity from an ambulance station and the high number of crashes that took place.”
Of the five clusters, two are located in McKenzie County and, of the five clusters, the two in McKenzie County are the largest in size.
According to Schnetzer, the two identified hotspot clusters in McKenzie County were the areas around Alexander, from just south of Williston to roughly 40 minutes south of Alexander and west to Arnegard. The other hotspot cluster covers an area west of Keene and surrounding Mandaree that extends southwest into a large portion of Dunn County.
Schnetzer states that one of the Alexander hotspot zones showed that 220 crashes had occurred, while one of the areas surrounding Mandaree reported 350 crashes.
The three other clusters were located near Richardton, Minot, and New Town. But, according to Schnetzer, the areas around McKenzie County could be ranked as the most in need.
“The area around Minot could probably be thrown out because it is very close to an existing coverage area, and the same holds true for Richardton and Williston,” states Schnetzer. “That leaves the two McKenzie County clusters and an area around New Town, and the area around New Town is not very heavily populated.”
There is only one ambulance station in McKenzie County, which is located in Watford City. That ambulance station responds to almost every emergency in McKenzie County, the largest county in North Dakota which covers roughly 2,800 square miles.
Schnetzer states that the study deemed a 14.7-minute window as ideal for emergency response. According to Schnetzer, a previous NDAOGPC study deemed a 20-minute ambulance response time acceptable for rural areas. However, during this study, it was determined that a 14.7-minute window of response time was more ideal, due to the mobilization time needed for volunteer crews.
“A lot of people were confused about what we were trying to accomplish through this study,” states Schnetzer. “We weren’t tasked with anything except collecting data, and we tried to use data that was fair. We took a whole year of crash data and ambulance responses.”
In doing so, Schnentzer states that more credible data was collected, rather than just a snapshot.
“We wanted to say, ‘here is a huge traffic area, where do we need to narrow our focus?’” states Schnetzer. “We were just concerned with the data, not human influence, where someone would say, ‘this happened on this day or that happened here.’”
“Our goal was not to say that anyone is doing a bad job, it was to identify where the greatest needs were located,” states Steiner. “We wanted to give people data and say, ‘if you were going to try and address what is going on in these 19 oil and gas-producing counties, this is where you could start.’”
This study was presented at the NDAOGPC Annual Meeting on Thursday, Sept. 26. According to Steiner, money has been made available to help meet ambulance service needs in the 19 oil and gas-producing counties. The association’s goal, moving forward, is to work with the existing systems and use their leadership, to provide improved coverage in the form of possible satellite ambulance stations or paid staff.
“There is money to help,” states Steiner. “We want to know how they want to proceed.”