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FOR RELEASE: April 26, 2007
CONTACT: Pamela Williams
Office of Communications
405/271-5601

Rural Ambulance Services at Risk

With the end of the legislative session approaching, ambulance services across Oklahoma are waiting to see what, if any, action will be taken on the recommendations from the EMS Task Force report and pending legislation. This week, the Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH) received word that another rural ambulance service closed.

The City of Clayton surrendered its ambulance license to the OSDH Emergency Medical Service (EMS) Division Tuesday, April 24, becoming the 46th Oklahoma ambulance service to close since 2000 and the fourth to close since September 2006. The other four that closed are Cardiac Air Transport, Weleetka–Graham EMS, Cyril EMS, and EMTRO (serving Stroud & Prague). Oklahoma’s EMS rules require the closest ambulance to respond to any emergency, leaving neighboring communities with the burden of providing care with no additional revenue.

In January 2007, the City of Clayton suffered the tragic loss of an EMT in an ambulance rollover crash, leaving the service with only one licensed EMT. The city has not been able to find a replacement. The Clayton ambulance service covered 840 square miles between Antlers and Talihina. Now, the closest ambulance will be nearly half an hour away in Talihina. Any ambulance request in Clayton will require more than an hour to arrive at the closest hospital, effectively eliminating the “Golden Hour” window for life-saving interventions.

The EMS Task Force listed recruitment and retention as a major challenge for rural ambulance services in their report delivered to Gov. Brad Henry’s office in February this year. The report says rural systems are unable to recruit due to Medicare budget cuts and problems finding local training.

“Legislation requesting state support for the development of self-sufficient rural EMS systems received "do-pass" recommendations from state House and Senate committees, but was prevented from reaching the House floor for a vote reportedly because of concerns about the cost of investing $5 million a year for four years,” said EMS Task Force Chairman Greg Reid. The bills were HB 1615, SB 531 and HJR 1014.

“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. 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,” said Reid.

The EMS Readiness Task Force Report recommends the following:  

  • Funding:
    • Give communities the ability to provide sufficient subsidy to support quality 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 emergency medical technician (EMT) training and agree to work in Oklahoma EMS.  
    • Offer state funding to EMS 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.
  • 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.

For more information about the 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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