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Mike Scott, paramedic, and Kevin Mason, emergency medical technician, are two of the 20 employees who work for North Memorial Ambulance Service - Alexandria. (Amy Chaffins/Echo Press)

You asked: What to expect when you call an ambulance

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You asked: What to expect when you call an ambulance
Alexandria Minnesota 225 7th Ave E
P.O. Box 549

If you call 911, what should you expect when an ambulance arrives?

Scott Johnson, manager and emergency medical technician-paramedic for North Memorial Ambulance Service - Alexandria, answered a few questions:


Q: When should someone call for an ambulance?

A: “They can call an ambulance for any medical emergency. We’re bringing that emergency room setting and the tools to their residence and getting the care initiated,” Johnson said. Plus, emergency medical technicians (EMTs) can get timely treatment started for a heart attack or stroke victim.

Q: Can you refuse a ride in an ambulance?

A: Yes. “You absolutely have a choice,” Johnson said. “Obviously, we’re an ambulance service and we’re there to treat and transport folks, but if people are really unsure or aren’t comfortable riding with us, they absolutely have the right to refuse. We try to inform them of the risks if they refuse, but they can refuse.”

About 10 to 12 percent of transports are refused, Johnson said.

Q: What is the most common type of call?

A: “Most of what we do is medical emergencies. Historically, when people think about the ambulance service, they think of car crashes… the trauma, the blood, and that is a very small portion of what we do. Most of our runs are medical emergencies. We treat the whole spectrum, everyone from newborn to 107 years old and everything – respiratory, abdominal pain, chest pain, cardiac, urology, diabetics,” Johnson said.

In 2013, North Memorial Ambulance - Alexandria responded to 2,800 requests for service. That number is increasing and he attributes it to local population growth and a spike in influenza cases in 2013.

Q: What’s the difference between an EMT and Paramedic?

A: An emergency medical technician is a basic life support provider. A paramedic has more training to provide treatment like intravenous lines, cardiac rhythm interpretation, advanced airway treatments and more.

Currently, there are 20 people on staff in Alexandria – a mix of EMTs and paramedics. There are two ambulances staffed locally 24 hours per day, 365 days per year. Two more ambulances are stocked and ready to be used if necessary.

Q: Can a patient choose which hospital they go to?

A: “One of the first things we ask them is where they want to go,” Johnson said. “Primarily it’s Douglas County Hospital, but there are folks that seek care at Glacial Ridge Hospital in Glenwood, Elbow Lake and Long Prairie. Folks have a choice where they want to go, within reason.”

Q: What can people expect when an ambulance crew arrives on scene?

A: “Once we get an idea of what the primary problem is, we do a physical assessment to really try to figure out what’s going on with them so that we can treat those life altering things and get some medication onboard if we need to. If they’re having pain, we can offer pain meds to alleviate suffering and treat various medical conditions. And we do a fair amount of procedures in their home, on the spot to initiate the treatment right away. We’ll provide that initial care to get them stabilized and move them to the ambulance via stretcher and transport them to the hospital.

“A limited percentage [of patients] are transported by lights and sirens, in part because we’re providing that care en route to the hospital,” Johnson said.

Q: What can people do to better prepare for an in-home medical emergency?

A: “If you’re on any prescribed medications from a physician, ask them for a printed list of your medications with dosages. So when we arrive there we have that accurate list and we can take that with us to the hospital. If you don’t have a list, we will end up taking the actual medication with us, but we don’t want to take it because it’s peoples’ medication and it costs a lot of money,” Johnson said. Allergies should also be included on that list along with any diagnoses.

Q: How much is a trip in an ambulance?

A: “It varies based on the level of care we provide. We bill anywhere from a basic life support to a specialty care transport and I’m not going to lie, when folks first receive their bill they’re quite shocked by the amount and that doesn’t surprise me. However, we only collect 45 percent of what we bill. A fair amount of what we bill are Medicare patients and Medicare sets reimbursement rates that no matter what the level of service, this is what reimbursement is going to be for those. We don’t receive any subsidies from cities or counties, we are solely a service providing care and our business is based on what we bill out and what we collect from that,” Johnson said.

The actual bill can range from $300 to $5,000, depending on acuity of patients. Bills for ambulance services are sent to a patient’s insurance company.

Amy Chaffins
Amy Chaffins is a journalist working for the Echo Press newspaper in Alexandria, Minnesota.
(320) 763-3133