In rural North Dakota, friends and neighbors are creating a medical lifeline

Good Samaritan Hospital Association establishing volunteer network of quick responders in Pierce County

With about four people per square mile, North Dakota’s Pierce County has one of the sparsest populations in the United States.

All of which makes this concept a true lifeline.

Ken Reed has been kicking the concept around for some time now. And this fall, he’ll begin training and mobilizing a volunteer network of rural quick responders for medical emergencies in Pierce County, where about 4,300 people are spread over 1,081 square miles.

“The first 10 minutes of emergency medical care are critical to survival, and the solution is almost always an engaged public. We’re translating this over to a rural environment,” says Reed, director of EMS for the Good Samaritan Hospital Association, based in Rugby, ND.

“How can we buy back that time? We know that it won’t be by adding more ambulances or staff,” he says. “Realistically, it’s engaging people who live in that rural area already—and asking them to act as a quick responder, and help victims with life-threatening conditions.”

The plan calls for the GSHA, through the Rugby EMS department, to train and equip at least one family in each of Pierce County’s 25 rural townships to act as rural quick responders.

The four hours of training is specific, and heavy on practical application—recognition of cardiac arrest; hands-only cardio-pulmonary resuscitation (CPR); deployment of an Automatic External Defibrillator (AED); and hemorrhage control using a tourniquet or combat gauze.

Volunteer families will receive auto-alerts, via text and voice-mail message on their cellphones, through the pre-existing Rugby EMS system.

It’s believed to be the first formalized volunteer network effort for medical emergencies in the U.S., and at least one family in most of the 25 rural townships has expressed an interest.

“This is all about a response and critical intervention for the first 10 minutes, until the ambulance service arrives,” says Reed. “We’re looking for families, more than individuals, so that no matter what’s going on at the farmstead, there’s likely someone around who can get the alert, access their kit, and head out on the call.”

Safety is Enbridge’s top priority, and we’re committed to enhancing safety in the communities near our operations and projects.

Since 2002, our Safe Community program has provided $10.7 million in grants to emergency response agencies across North America. And in 2016, we invested more than $275,000 in community-strengthening initiatives across North Dakota that align with our focus areas of health and safety, well-being and the environment.

Enbridge’s recent $2,000 donation to the GSHA’s rural quick responder initiative will be used to purchase CPR mannequins and a bleeding simulator during training seminars.

Currently, Rugby EMS responds to only about 50 rural calls a year, so volunteers aren’t expected to be overwhelmed, “but if you’re the one person a week who will benefit, you’re going to be pretty happy about it,” says Reed.

“Everybody can think of a reason it won’t work. I’ve heard lots of ‘what-ifs,’ but I always respond with: ‘What if nobody does anything?’ ” he remarks. “These folks out in the rural areas know each other well. They interact. They help each other. This idea is a normal extension of that reality.”