Rural EMS departments look for solution - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Rural EMS departments look for solution

Posted: Updated:

Where you live could determine whether you survive an emergency. It's a message rural EMS departments are trying to get across, as they are struggle to find a solution.

The reality for some who live in rural areas in Iowa, is that they might not get an ambulance in time. Sandy Heick, who is a volunteer West Branch medical first responder, knows this all too well. 

"People think that they're guaranteed an ambulance when they call 911," said Heick. 

In 2016, West Branch had a total of 346 medical calls, which is more than four times their call volume for fire-related calls at only 80. Yet, Heick says their first responders aren't able to transport to the hospital. For that reason, they're forced to tap into surrounding area resources like Johnson County where Heick also works as a paid paramedic. 

"We're seeing a lot more where we're having to go out and respond for these rural services that aren't responding or having delayed responses," said Heick.

Working in Johnson County, Heick says they've seen an increase in responding to areas in Cedar and Iowa County. 

Heick says the problem is two-fold: Recruiting volunteers and funding. 

"Volunteers in the past would be willing to go and drop everything when the pager went off and volunteerism is dying because it costs so much to become an EMS person," said Heick. 

Heick says training and certifications can cost anywhere from $2,000-15,000. 

"And these volunteers are having to pay that out of their pocket to basically do a free job," said Heick. 

The EMS crisis is not a problem that's just specific to West Branch. The Iowa EMS Association (IEMSA) says it's statewide problem for rural areas. In order to change, IEMSA says EMS needs to be considered an essential service.

Brandon Smith, who is Treasurer of IEMSA, says this problem is one they've been working to change at the legislative level. 

"Rural EMS in Iowa, by word, is an essential service, but not by the state code," said Smith. "And because of that, there is not a revenue stream to provide EMS in the state of Iowa."

Currently, the tax code only allows taxation for law enforcement and fire in rural towns. However, both Smith and Heick agree that EMS needs to have its own fund. 

"We gotta find a way to fund EMS so that there is a paid person that is going to respond to those calls in a timely manner," said Heick. 

Smith says IEMSA doesn't believe it's efficient to have an ambulance in every single small town in Iowa. Instead, they believe a regionalized ambulance service would be a better system with quicker response times and reliable coverage. 

Powered by Frankly