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Shortage of EMS, ambulance staff in rural Oklahoma

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Kimberly James | The Center Square contributor

(The Center Square) – Rural Oklahoma ambulance and EMS services are having difficulty keeping up with the demand for medical emergency workers, challenged by the ever-shrinking number of volunteers and paid staff.

"Many rural areas rely on volunteers, and those are increasingly hard to find for anything in today's climate," Allison Seigars, executive director of Rural Health Projects, Inc, said. "In health care in general, in addition to other health care workforce shortages, many of the baby boomers are retiring and I would say this applies to rural EMS volunteers and paid staff."

Many times, survival depends on how quickly aid is rendered. With the current shortage of first responder staff, some Oklahomans are forced to wait for initial emergency care even longer, putting them at greater risk.

"As far as vitality and impact on rural health, when you start looking at accident statistics as cause of death, it becomes clear that rural and remote areas where services are sparse have higher incidence of deaths because of the proximity of care," Seigars said. "In general, having services and people trained to provide those services, such as with EMS and volunteer firefighters who often have a paramedic or EMT certification, is a vital first step in providing care. Some hospitals have begun taking over EMS services in order to be able to provide the service in the community as well as pay the EMS staff."

One proposed solution to the shortage is to create emergency medical response agencies staffed with a single, full-time paramedic who can render aid until an ambulance from another community is available. Others are still looking at alternative ways to enlist people from the community.

"Many of the CareerTechs in the state offer incentives for their programs," Seigars said. "For example, Autry Technology Center here in Enid, provides free tuition for recent graduates for up to three years if they live in the district. There are other local incentives and programs for attaining the certifications or joining an EMS team."