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The News Editorial: What level of EMS would you support?

Fire and law enforcement are by law essential services, meaning counties and municipalities must provide those services.

What is not an essential service is emergency medical services. No one really seems to know why but more and more people are asking as emergency medical services are struggling across the state and the country.

During a listening session hosted by the Wyoming Department of Health last week in Thermopolis, DOH officials reported that requests for service for EMS have increased 27.1 percent in the past six years statewide.

In Region 5, which includes Washakie County, the number of requests have increased 34 percent during the same time frame.

They also reported that since 1987 there has been a 27% decrease nationally in volunteers for first responder agencies.

The Washakie County Ambulance Service fell victim to that and one of the issues discussed last week is that the volunteers do not have the time to devote to the level of service the public is wanting.

The state asked the EMS personnel in attendance what their communities wanted in emergency medical service and the overwhelming response was quality service in a timely fashion and they want treatment to start right away.

Here’s the issue, emergency medical technicians can only do so much in the way of treatment and the main goal is to get the patient to the hospital as quickly as possible. An advanced life support EMS or a paramedic-based EMS can offer more treatment at the scene.

North Big Horn Hospital ambulance director Scott Murphy said he has heard from people that if all they are going to do is throw a blanket over them, put them on a gurney and take them to the hospital then they might as well just jump in their own pickup and drive to the hospital.

He said one gentleman having a heart attack did just that, and had he called for an ambulance and treatment could have started sooner, the man would have been better off.

With an increase in calls (just today we heard the ambulance dispatched four times within a short timeframe, some calls appeared more serious in nature than others), there comes an increase in cost.

The DOH reported that a basic service costs about $500,000 to operate and an advanced system (which provides more treatment at the scene) costs over $1 million.

The Governor’s Health Task Force and the Wyoming Department of Health have been seeking input and information about the current operations and challenges to Emergency Medical Services in Wyoming, conducting five listening sessions around the state to gain information from the stakeholders providing those services.

They asked a lot of pertinent questions of the EMS personnel at last week’s meeting and they will gather up all the comments and make a report and try and figure the next steps to making sure EMS is sustainable in Wyoming.

Murphy suggested that each EMS agency also conduct an assessment in their community to truly gauge what type of service the community wants, what type they would support and how they would be willing to support that level of service.

He is exactly right. It does not matter what solutions the state may come up, or even the agencies, if the communities themselves do not buy in to the solutions they will fail.

Each agency in attendance last week at the Thermopolis Fire Hall, said they have seen strong community support in different ways.

One said members of the public occasionally buy their EMS personnel breakfast or lunch, Ten Sleep’s community shows their support in the number of people who still donate time and money to be trained and to volunteer.

Luke Sypherd, the former Washakie County Ambulance Service director and current Cody Regional Health EMS quality supervisor, noted that nearly 84% of residents who responded to a Washakie County survey said they would support a quarter-of-a-cent sales tax to pay for emergency medical services in the county.

While that survey percentage is encouraging, during recent meetings regarding the location of an ambulance station there were comments about what the EMS crews needed or didn’t need, why couldn’t the volunteer firefighters just handle EMS services.

The biggest issue the state and federal government needs to address first and foremost is that pesky little thing about essential service.

I would bet that no one in Washakie County would want to be without an emergency medical ground service. When the volunteer ambulance service was struggling to respond to every call, Washakie County stepped up to contract with Cody Regional Health.

Technically they did not need to since it is not an “essential service” but the commissioners view it as such and have committed to funding the service for the current three-year contract. It has never entered their mind that Washakie County would go without an EMS agency and I appreciate that.

There are big decisions coming at the county and state level regarding the sustainability of EMS and the residents must be part of the solution.

--Karla Pomeroy