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Mental health & substance abuse make up roughly 25% of Sanford Ambulance calls

That makes up a total of almost 9,000 of their nearly 36,000 calls.

Sanford Ambulance's bay, filled with ambulances ready to go in Fargo.
Ben Morris / WDAY-TV

FARGO — While when many see an ambulance, they might think more about CPR, or treating a broken bone. But now, EMT's have to be ready for anything.

According to Sanford Ambulance's improvement adviser, nearly 25% of their calls in 2021 were for mental health and substance abuse.

"All of our people are trained to respond to whatever the patient needs. Whatever that 911 call reveals," said Kathy Lonski, improvement adviser for Sanford Ambulance. "(S)o we have to be trained on a lot of different things."

Lonski has taught classes as an improvement adviser for 10 years, and has been an EMT for 25. She says they are trying to cover mental health situations now more than ever.

"At least once a year on trying to do some role playing, we have online courses to refresh them on how to do (...) the Columbia suicide risk assessment and things like that," Lonski explained.


She says they also frequently try and cover mental health questioning, and the best techniques to de-escalate a situation.

However, she admits that even though they train for it, they still aren't necessarily the best form of care when it comes to many of these situations. It's something they hope to change, as they work to try and train people specialized in those areas.

"What we'd like to see is a lot more behavioral health professionals involved in mobile mental health," Lonski said. "So we're working with mobile mental health teams to implement behavioral health care on scene."

Loski says they don't yet have a timeline for when the training could happen, and when they could get these mental health specialists ready to go. But their numbers show they're needed now more than ever.

Ben Morris joined WDAY in June of 2021 as a news reporter. He grew up in southern New Hampshire, before he moved to Fargo. He majored in media communications and minored in marketing at the University of Toledo in Ohio.
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