With the end of the legislative session approaching, ambulance services across Oklahoma are waiting to see what action will be taken on the recommendations of a state EMS task force and pending legislation that could provide new funding.
In the meantime, the Oklahoma State Department of Health received word that another rural ambulance service closed.
The City of Clayton surrendered its ambulance license to the department of health's Emergency Medical Service Division, becoming the 46th Oklahoma ambulance service to close since 2000 and the fourth to close since September 2006.
Locally, rural communities suffer the consequences of limited ambulances and personnel as well, according to local EMS providers.
“We have two ambulances available immediately and two that can be available within 15 minutes, said Integris Baptist Regional Health Center Ambulance Director Michael Forquer. “We also have a new first response vehicle. Picher has the only other ambulance service in the county.
In addition to responding to emergency calls, ambulance services provide transport for nursing home residents and hospital patients. This service further limits the number of “available ambulances and personnel in the event of an emergency.
Last year, the local ambulance service responded to 3,168 calls, with an average response time of 7.56 minutes. However, that time is greatly increased when local emergency personnel are forced to respond to emergencies out of their district, according to emergency service officials.
“By law, if we are the closest available ambulance, we are required to respond, Forquer said.
Forquer said with additional state aid and changes in the subsidy arrangements, ambulances could be more strategically placed throughout the county which would allow for faster response times.
“We are only subsidized by the Miami School District, so the other districts we serve don't pay for that service, Forquer said. “If everyone we provide service to was contributing, we wouldn't have all of the ambulances in a concentrated area and could afford to increase the number of personnel.
“The EMS response system is an important link to the health of all Oklahomans. We are the first link in trauma care and the bioterrorism response system in Oklahoma. The Task Force and many others have been talking with legislators for some time, task force member Gregory Alan Reid. “We are trying to help them realize that when they travel from the Capitol to their home district, they are likely traveling through areas that have scarce EMS resources.
The EMS Readiness Task Force Report recommends the following:
Give communities the ability to provide sufficient subsidy to support quality emergency service.
Establish a state fund to assist regional EMS systems to evolve to a sustainable budget.
Recruitment and retention:
Offer state tuition reimbursement for people who complete emergency medical technician training and agree to work in an Oklahoma emergency services.
Offer state funding for training institutions for rural outreach and EMT program accreditation.
Offer EMTs and paramedics the same retirement line-of-duty death and tax benefits provided to police officer and firefighters.
Provide medical director training and development.
Provide for confidentiality of quality improvement activities to protect services and medical directors against lawsuits.
Improve communications systems.
Form public/private partnerships to secure federal preparedness funding.
Establish state-sponsored regional response teams.