Fundraiser for washer, dryer lifts Sanborn County Ambulance Service past COVID-19 challenge

Fund drive for laundering equipment delivers appliances quickly

When the Sanborn County Ambulance Service learned they could no longer wash the linens from the ambulance following emergency runs at the Prairie View Healthcare Center due to COVID-19 concerns, volunteers with the service began taking the linens home to wash in their home machines. The service soon decided to purchase its own washer and dryer unit with funds raised and matched by members of the local community. (Submitted Photo)
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WOONSOCKET — When COVID-19 threw a wrench in how the Sanborn County Ambulance Service prepares for emergency runs, community members and organizations stepped in to make sure the service continued to function smoothly.

The ambulance service, which serves about 2,300 residents in Sanborn County, had long washed the linens used in the ambulance at the Prairie View Healthcare Center in Woonsocket following ambulance runs. The various fabrics needed to be changed or laundered between runs to ensure they were always fresh, clean and sterile in order to preserve the highest levels of safety for patients.

But when COVID-19 rolled across the county, the center informed the Sanborn Ambulance Service that they could no longer provide the service.

“We did that as far back as I can recollect,” said Aaron Fink, president of the Sanborn County Ambulance Service. “That’s the way it’s always been. When we got done with a run, we’d put the linen in a basket and then when it got full they did it and we went and picked it up.”

Fink said he believed the practice began when a member of the ambulance crew also worked at the center, but it ended when COVID-19 arrived on the scene earlier this year. With a building full of residents who were potentially particularly susceptible to infection from the respiratory disease, bringing in materials after ambulance runs was considered risky and to be avoided.


“They called me about the first of October and said we don’t want to have that coming into the nursing home. That was when we were having the big spike (in COVID-19 cases) in Sanborn County,” Fink said. “It’s understandable.”

But the ambulance linens still needed washing. So, as a temporary solution, members of the ambulance team began taking the linens home and washing them in their own home machines. It wasn’t an ideal solution, but it kept the ambulance service up and running with clean dressings.

The volunteers used their own time and detergent from the service to clean the linens, which includes various blankets, pillowcases and other fabrics that are used in the patient bed of the ambulance. While it wasn’t particularly expensive for the volunteers to help out with the task, it was time consuming and an inconvenience

“Two volunteers took it home a couple of times, but after that we decided we needed to get a washer and dryer,” Fink said.

While washers and dryers are commonly found in most American households, that was not the case at the shed where the ambulance service was headquartered in Woonsocket. A pair of appliances would have to be secured, and appliances come with a price tag. So the service began a project to raise funds for the purchase of those appliances.

“After that we needed to get a washer and dryer to do it. We probably should have done it a long time ago, but that is neither here nor there,” Fink said.

The service reached out to the community seeking donations that would help cover the approximate cost of $3,000. Fink said as the project got underway, he learned that a local Modern Woodmen of America chapter had offered $1,500 in matching funds if other contributions could take the fundraising that far.

It didn’t take long.


“This has gone pretty fast,” Fink said.

The service brought in the $1,500 it needed to receive the matching funds within a single day, Fink said. The funds went toward the purchase of a washer and dryer, as well as the installation costs, which included plumbing work at the ambulance shed, which it shares with the Sanborn County Sheriff’s Office and county courthouse maintenance crew.

Now instead of having laundry pile up and volunteers having to take it home to clean, the setup at the ambulance shed is taking care of business on-site, thanks to the help of local community members and their generosity.

“It’s in and it’s operational. Nobody has taken any laundry home for three weeks, so we have a little laundry to do,” Fink said.

Erik Kaufman joined the Mitchell Republic in July of 2019 as an education and features reporter. He grew up in Freeman, S.D., graduating from Freeman High School. He graduated from the University of South Dakota in 1999 with a major in English and a minor in computer science. He can be reached at
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