Have you ever considered if you are prepared to live without adequate emergency medical services?
There are some interesting things I’ve learned about our ambulance district recently that made me curious to know what others believe about our EMS services here in the Weiser area. Because there have been issues with the community’s relationship with the ambulance in the past, I believe it’s important that we revisit the topic, as things are not what they once were, and times are changing to where they may not continue to be what we expect.
Did you know that EMS is not considered an essential service in Idaho? Some legislators are trying to change that, but for the time being, this means that they don’t receive state funding, and therefore, aren’t even required to respond. With that said, let’s talk about some local issues our EMS faces.
To begin, the Weiser Ambulance District responds to approximately 846 sq miles of Washington County, as well as being a paramedic intercept for Midvale, Cambridge, and Council when requested, as well as assisting Payette and Ontario as needed.
During a county commissioners meeting in March, it was said that the community owes the ambulance more than $6 million. Medicaid and Medicare are also refusing to pay more frequently. And about 1/4-1/2 of the ambulance calls in the Weiser area are considered “disallowances”, meaning services are still rendered because emergency services do not preauthorize their calls, but insurance or Medicaid/Medicare deny reimbursement. Obviously, these professionals will continue doing their job whether the ambulance receives its payments or not, but there are some things need to be said.
First of all, let’s note that not all EMS providers have the same education and skill level. An EMT is not qualified to perform the same life-saving measures as a Paramedic, for example. Weiser Ambulance District is currently an ALS (Advanced Life Support) service, meaning they have paramedics on staff. If it were just EMT’s, it would be considered a BLS (Basic Life Support) service. For where are located, we have the last ALS service on Hwy95 North until you get to McCall. Furthermore, should the ambulance ever become a volunteer agency, there’s less chance of a paramedic responding, as well. This is because there is no incentive for a paramedic to be able to respond on volunteer status, due to liability, personal overhead, and location.
It is also important to understand that the ambulance is an independent entity. Probably the biggest misconception is that the ambulance is part of the hospital, but that is not accurate, so it does not share in their funding or split bills with them. The ambulance is also not part of the fire department, so it does not share in their funding, either. (Note that both the hospital and the fire department ARE considered essential services in Idaho, and therefore have access to additional funding whereas the ambulance, as mentioned, does not.) The Weiser Ambulance District has had to work with a budget that’s stayed nearly the same for over a decade- in fact it
was actually larger in the past- despite a 13.5% inflation of medical supplies and overhead. They have not been truly invested in since their beginning in the late 1970’s.
Your current ambulance director has done his best to stretch what they have, pay the employees as well as the company can, and get as many grants as possible for trucks, equipment, and education in order to keep from having to ask the taxpayers for additional funding. They are working to train people well and provide the best service to the community with what they have. But they’re working in a sub-par station with no living quarters (so they have to reside in a separate residence) and are at their small budget limit as far as their ability to pay employees more. They don’t WANT to have to ask you all for more because we all know other entities are already doing so and this community is tired of taxes, nor is it a pleasant idea to chase down family members to pay the bill after a loved one has passed. But again, remember the community already owes them $6 million, Medicaid/Medicare are refusing to pay more and more, and they do not receive state funding, being nonessential.
EMS professionals are the ones who arrive on our worst days. As uncomfortable as it might be, I think sometimes it needs to be said out loud things these people face as part of their job because it’s reality- illness, death, dismembered bodies, horrible vehicle accidents, babies and children in the worst situations…exposure to the things others hide from or can’t imagine coming across. When we really get to thinking about it, is that something anyone else wants to do by themselves? It sure makes a person appreciate that truck and those dedicated professionals a little more whether you’ve ever had to call them for help or not.
If you are grateful for your local ambulance service and their employees, please make sure you thank those who are doing the job most people couldn’t handle (especially mentally), and consider supporting the Weiser Ambulance District financially…and if the time comes that they have to ask for more funding, remember that they haven’t done so in a while and don’t do it often like other entities. I don’t think any of us ever want to be without an ambulance and have to do the job those people do for us in order to keep loved ones alive or transport others to the hospital. Our EMS service is something we don’t ever want to take for granted.
By Bryn Smith