An upcoming Emergency Medical Services (EMS) 101 event will provide a venue where lawmakers, reporters, and the public can learn more about EMS delivery systems and needs across the state. The event will take place Monday, Jan. 22, from 3:30-4:30 p.m. in the Lincoln Auditorium at the Idaho State Capitol.
EMS in Idaho is at a crossroads. Challenged by population growth, a fragmented system of volunteers and paid staff, and Idaho’s inherently rural character, local, regional, and state EMS leaders are working together through the EMS Sustainability Task Force to assess the challenges that loom if nothing changes.
“We’ve been gaining an understanding of the critical needs in EMS across Idaho and will continue to share that information with legislators, stakeholders, and the public,” said EMS Sustainability Task Force member Bill Spencer from Grangeville.
The EMS Sustainability Task Force is comprised of EMS professionals from throughout Idaho and has been meeting since June 2022 to explore solutions to Idaho’s EMS challenges. It was convened in response to an Office of Performance Evaluations report that identified critical needs.
EMS in Idaho is provided within a framework of different organizations that vary in patient transport and clinical abilities. Some emergency services use paid, career response personnel while others rely on volunteers.
“There’s a lot of variation in staffing models, but a consistent thread in Idaho is that rural communities tend to rely on volunteers, who are often the only emergency response available for calls that happen well outside their communities,” Spencer said.
The total number of licensed EMS personnel has remained relatively stable over the past 15 years but has not kept pace with the state’s population growth. Moreover, much of the increase in the number of licensed EMS personnel has been in the state’s urban areas, while the number of EMS personnel in rural communities continues to shrink.
“If the current trend continues, many rural communities will be at risk of longer EMS response times due to lack of EMS personnel,” Spencer said. “Communities that now have a local ambulance service may have to rely on the ambulance service from a distant neighboring community.”
There have been several efforts over the years to better understand the challenges facing the organizations and personnel who provide EMS in Idaho.
- The Idaho Office of Performance Evaluation published a study in 2010 about the governance of EMS agencies.
- In 2012 and 2018, the Bureau of EMS at the Department of Health and Welfare published reports detailing the concerns and possible solutions specific to volunteer EMS personnel.
- In 2021, the Office of Performance Evaluations published a report about volunteer EMS providers with several actionable recommendations.
After reviewing the latest Office of Performance Evaluations report, the Health Quality Planning Commission asked the Department of Health and Welfare to convene the EMS Sustainability Task Force to find policy solutions—including draft legislative language—that will help assure reliable EMS response is available everywhere in Idaho.
Another recent development includes the work of six EMS planners who were contracted with funds appropriated by the Legislature last session. The planners collaborated with Idaho’s 44 counties to document current EMS response capabilities, best practices, and resource requirements for a sustained EMS response.
Lawmakers and communities throughout Idaho continue to discuss if EMS should be designated as an essential government service, and the EMS 101 event will support that continued conversation. The intent for EMS 101 is to share information with lawmakers, media, and the public about the challenges and opportunities ahead.
The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare is dedicated to strengthening the health, safety, and independence of Idahoans. Learn more at healthandwelfare.idaho.gov.