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Impacts of being underfunded, understaffed felt for rural EMS teams

EMS considered  not "essential" under Idaho law
Posted at 3:39 PM, Feb 17, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-17 19:46:07-05

BOISE, Idaho — Rural Emergency Medical Services are feeling the impacts of underfunding and limited availability of staff.

In December, a report by the Idaho Office of Performance Evaluations found EMS in Idaho are underfunded and understaffed. Under Idaho law, EMS is not considered an essential government service, which means it's not guaranteed to residents under state law. Only 11 states have laws that make EMS essential.

States with Essential EMS

According to the report, the average response time is 20-30 minutes in rural parts of Boise County.

"It takes more time for us to get to people, and so when you choose to live out here, you're also accepting the fact that your emergency response is going to take a little bit longer than it does in town, and that just adds to the burden if you will on both the patient and the responder to do our job." said, Carrie Wiss, EMS captain for Wilderness Ranch Fire Protection District.

Related: Report: EMS in Idaho underfunded, rural patients left to feel the impacts

Average response times in Idaho
Average response times in Idaho

EMS across the country are feeling pressure from the industry itself. Currently fewer people are becoming paramedics because of low pay and the high cost of schooling. In rural Idaho, even fewer people are volunteering.

"People are scared to volunteer because of COVID. We deal with a lot of patients who do have COVID and it's just really hard for people...they don't want to volunteer because they don't want to get that sickness" said, Marri Adams, an EMT with East Boise County Ambulance District.

The need for volunteers does not stop with Emergency Medical Technicians — there is alao need for ambulance drivers.

In January, lawmakers heard the report. OPE did a similar report in 2010 making suggestions to funding and the legislature made no changes. Rural EMS workers hope this time is different.

EMS level of care in Idaho
EMS level of care in Idaho

"They would have to change some laws so that we can raise taxes because that's the only way that EMS is sustainable is with paid employees." said, Melissa Potts, Director of East Boise County Ambulance District.

Some of the members of the Joint Legislative Oversight Committee believe Governor Brad Little needs to take action.

"I think the governor is going to have to take the lead on this I don't think the legislature is going to solve this problem. We need fiscal policies and appropriation processes that meet the needs of the fastest-growing state in the nation, not what we were 20-30-40 years ago," said Democratic Representative Steve Berch of Boise.

Democrats believe Idaho's $1.9 billion surpluses should be used to help EMS.

"The surplus is good to use funds to catch up on what we've been neglecting, but not to sustain future need." said Berch.

JLOC moved to keep the report open allowing for OPE to follow up in a year and moved to have the report presented to the Health and Welfare committees.

East Boise County Ambulance District offers free EMT training courses throughout the year.