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FOR RELEASE: April 17, 2007
CONTACT: Pamela Williams
Office of Communications
405/271-5601

Governor’s EMS Task Force Sounds Alarm in Final Report Immediate Action Recommended

The Governor's Emergency Medical Service (EMS) Readiness Task Force has concluded that Oklahoma's ambulance "safety net" is threadbare and weakening further each day, especially in rural Oklahoma. In its final report, the task force calls for immediate action to save the system from collapse.

After 16 months of fact-finding, review and deliberation by the 16-member task force, the final report was submitted to Gov. Brad Henry’s Office this month calling for an estimated state investment of $5 million a year for four years.

In the last five years, 45 Oklahoma EMS agencies have closed, leaving neighboring communities with the burden of providing care with no additional revenue.
The EMS system is the network of emergency medical responders, ambulance services and helicopters that handle more than 300,000 requests for help each year in Oklahoma. There are 160 community ambulance providers statewide, and 30 air ambulances and “specialty care” operations.

EMS workers require extensive training, yet their pay is far below that of other public safety professionals such as police and fire. This makes recruitment and retention difficult.

“Other factors that put the system at risk include Medicare budget cuts, no statewide mechanism for dedicated public funding of EMS, and an aging population. Demand for services is increasing at a time when the ability of providers to respond is declining, especially in rural communities,” said EMS Task Force Chairman Greg Reid.

Reid pointed to an Institute of Medicine report “EMS at the Crossroads” describing the national EMS systems as fragmented and noted that rural communities suffer most, as their populations age and their tax bases decrease.

Reid stated that many citizens have confidence in the services of their local community. “Although I may currently live in an area with good EMS, when I leave my community, I will be exposed to the effects of the EMS crisis as I travel the state for business or pleasure.”

The Governor’s EMS Readiness Task Force Report offers the following recommendations:  

  • Funding:
    • Remove the constitutional cap on the taxes communities can levy on themselves to pay for EMS.
    • 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 advanced Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) training and work a minimum number of hours in the field.
    • Offer state funding to EMS training institutions for rural outreach and EMT program accreditation.                                    
    • Offer tax breaks for EMTs.                                               
    • Offer line-of-duty death benefits for EMTs.
    • Offer state funded retirement benefits for EMTs similar to those for police and fire.
  • Medical Direction:
    • Provide medical director training and development.
    • Provide for confidentiality of quality improvement activities to protect services and medical directors against lawsuits.
  • Preparedness:
    • Improve communications systems.
    • Form public/private partnerships to secure federal preparedness funding.
    • Organize state-sponsored regional response teams.

Three bills: HB 1615, SB 531 and HJR 1014, are working through the legislative process to implement the recommendations of the Governor’s EMS Readiness Task Force Report.

For more information about the Governor’s EMS Readiness Task Force, contact R. Shawn Rogers, OSDH EMS Division Director, at 405/271-4027, or visit this Web site:  http://www.health.state.ok.us/program/ems/index.html

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