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Local ambulance crews on flood standby

Willmar ambulances are seen in this undated file photo. The Granite Falls, Hutchinson, Raymond and Willmar ambulance services have sent personnel to Fargo to help move hospital patients and nursing home residents to safer locations. Tribune photo by Bill Zimmer

WILLMAR -- The Minnesota River is rising in their own backyard, but when the call came late last week to help evacuate hospital patients in flood-beleaguered Fargo and Moorhead, the Granite Falls Ambulance didn't hesitate.

"People care about each other here," said Gene Hughes, the ambulance director. "We're glad to do our part."

Ambulance crews from across Minnesota have been deployed to the Red River valley since Thursday.

The Granite Falls, Hutchinson, Raymond and Willmar ambulance services were among those who sent a rig and personnel to help move hospital patients and nursing home residents to safer locations.

Crews will be rotating to Fargo-Moorhead every 72 hours for at least the next week and possibly longer.

On Monday morning, Brad Hanson, the operations manager for the Willmar Ambulance Service, was on the road, replacing local EMTs who were in Fargo for three days and returned Sunday night.

"Our job is to be on standby for any levee breaks," he said.

The ambulance strike team, consisting of about 10 ambulance crews, also will help Fargo and Moorhead emergency medical personnel if an extra presence is needed.

"We always are prepared to provide care, but most of it is transportation," Hughes said.

The flood is the first major event to which Minnesota's ambulance strike team has responded, Hanson said. "It's working very well."

Both hospitals in Fargo are still providing emergency services, but there's a risk they could be cut off by floodwaters if a dike fails.

To help fill the gap, the Minnesota Mobile Medical Unit, a trailer for on-site acute and emergency care, arrived Monday in Moorhead. This is the first mission for the unit, which was acquired last year by the Minnesota Department of Health and is being staffed by a federal disaster assistance team.

The free-standing mobile unit contains eight beds, a pharmacy, lab, X-ray and ventilators.

The Minnesota Hospital Association said Minnesota hospitals have taken in 106 patients who were evacuated late last week from Fargo's MeritCare Health System and VA Medical Center.

Abbott Northwestern Hospital received 43 patients and St. Cloud Hospital took in 35. Patients also were evacuated to hospitals in Rochester, St. Paul, Fergus Falls, Perham, Thief River Falls, Bemidji and Sioux Falls, S.D.

MeritCare sent an additional 71 patients to facilities in other states. Numbers weren't available for the number of VA patients who had to be moved.

Teri Beyer, chief quality officer at Rice Memorial Hospital in Willmar, said Rice was asked to be on standby for any displaced patients who might need outpatient dialysis care. Rice is ready to take some of these patients "but to this point, we have not had to do so," she said.