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Iowa county struggling with rising call volume, lack of ambulances

Rickey Stokes

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Posted by: RStokes
rstokes1450@gmail.com
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Date: Nov 04 2019 5:55 PM

IOWA CITY, Iowa — Adaptation is at the core of the emergency medical service profession.


Typically that ability to adapt comes into play when responding to a call for service when minutes can mean the difference between life and death for a patient. But at the Johnson County Ambulance Service, adapting also means responding to an ever-increasing call volume in Iowa’s second-fastest growing county.


“It’s a constant process of looking to see where we’ve been, where we are and where we’re going,” said Fiona Johnson, the ambulance service’s director.


The Johnson County Ambulance Service responded to 11,777 calls for service in fiscal 2019, a 9 percent increase over the 10,773 calls the previous year. Among those fiscal 20-19 calls were 6,375 in Iowa City, a 13 percent increase; 2,303 calls in Coralville, a nearly 11 percent increase; and 832 calls in North Liberty — a 9 percent decrease.


West Branch and Tiffin had 198 and 144 calls for service in fiscal 2019, respectively. While those numbers are small compared with the overall total, they were growing fast — 53 percent and 40 percent over the previous fiscal year.


So far in fiscal 2020, which began July 1, the ambulance service’s call volume is up 7 percent, Johnson said.


Each year is another record year when it comes to call volume.


“Every year it gets higher and higher,” Johnson said, who began her career with the ambulance service in 1999. “I don’t think there’s ever been a drop in our call volume.”


That constant increase is where the need to adapt comes in. That largely takes the form of looking at where and when ambulance resources are allocated.


For instance, in Iowa City, the ambulance service sees the most call volume on a Thursday, driven largely by underage drinking. While Friday and Saturday nights had adequate staffing, Johnson said, she now staffs a third ambulance on Thursday nights.


“Thursday night was running a little short because of underage drinking, primarily,” she said.


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