Lack of volunteers ends ambulance service in Merriman

Oct. 6, 2023, 5 a.m. ·

Sandhills Rescue Ambulance
Logo of the now defunct Sandhills Ambulance Service. (Photo: Nebraska Public Media News)

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The town of Merriman, Nebraska no longer has its own ambulance service.

The Sandhills Ambulance Service could no longer recruit enough qualified volunteers to transport emergency patients to local hospitals.

Merriman, Nebraska's water tower stands on the north side of the village.
Merriman, Nebraska's water tower stands on the north side of the village. (Photo: Nebraska Public Media News)

The rescue squad served a 100 square mile area in the far-northwest corner of Cherry County.

On Wednesday, the three-member board of Sandhills held a virtual meeting and voted to disband the service after a three-year long effort to recruit capable Emergency Medical Technicians.

Before casting her vote to end service, the only remaining EMT, Rose Chappell told the board “Nobody wants to (do this) but we’ve kind of hit a wall, unfortunately.”

There had once been eight volunteer EMTs on call 24-hours-a-day. Without a local rescue squad, there can be a 90-minute wait or more for an ambulance to respond to a 9-1-1 originating in Merriman. The crew can be based at a hospital in South Dakota or Valentine, Nebraska.

Members of Sandhills Ambulance Service board of directors.
Rose Chappell (L) and Jami Simmons, members of the now disbanded Sandhills Ambulance Service next to the unused rescue squad. (Photo: Nebraska Public Media News)

Board President Jami Simmons told Nebraska Public Media “it's disappointing. It's disheartening.”

“I'm worried for my neighbors and my community and my family, because I don't know what this is going to mean.”

The non-profit’s budget has been drained by continuing to pay for insurance on their ambulance, idle since 2017. As part of dissolving the few assets of the service, a buyer will be sought for the vehicle.

The service had face difficulties years before the current board took on a leadership role. An independent study of Sandhills by the Paramedic Foundation issued in 2017 found “a great deal of evidence that many of the current problems facing SRAS are a result of the lack of direction, effective management, governance and leadership.”