Paper reports rural Iowa shortage of emergency aid

The Associated PressJuly 14, 2014 

— Twenty-nine of Iowa's 99 counties have no ambulance or only one capable of providing full-time, 24-hour-a-day service, according to a newspaper report.

These 29 counties are home to nearly 427,000 people, The Des Moines Register reported (http://dmreg.co/1kV9xjY ). Its analysis of data from the Iowa Bureau of Emergency Medical Services also shows that 14 Iowa counties have four or fewer emergency medical service agencies of any kind within their borders.

Brian Donaldson, director of Sumner Emergency Medical Services, said part of the problem is that emergency medical services are not required of cities and counties, and are paid for through a mix of donations and fees billed to patients. Other factors include that people have less time to volunteer, and training requirements and costs have increased in recent years.

"We need young people to volunteer," said Matthew Mydland, the sole EMT certified at the paramedic level in Lyon County. "I would say the time commitment that's involved is the biggest hurdle to recruiting young volunteers. How can you work full time and raise a family when you're also taking EMS classes at night?"

The newspaper reported that the state's bureau of EMS no longer tracks or analyzes data that showcases shortages and other services that have been shut down. The bureau's staff has dropped in recent years, and it hasn't had a full-time chief in three years. The EMS medical director position has also been vacant for more than a decade.

Ken Sharp, an Iowa Department of Public Health division director who oversees the Bureau of EMS, said the group is trying to redefine its role.

"We recognize the bureau has not had strong leadership," he said. "It has really floundered."

Bill Rosacker, director of Le Mars EMS, said state legislators should make EMS an essential government service so a reliable source of funding is established.

"There are a lot of smaller services out there that need the funding, and they just don't have the tax base to support it," he said. "To put a $130,000 ambulance on the street, it takes a lot of EMS calls to pay that off."

Information from: The Des Moines Register, http://www.desmoinesregister.com

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