Emergency Medical Services (EMS) in Idaho are at a crossroads. Challenged by population growth, a fragmented system of volunteers and paid staff, and Idaho’s inherently rural character, EMS leaders are working to get ahead of the crisis that looms if nothing changes.
An upcoming EMS Day event will provide a venue where lawmakers and reporters are invited to interact with and learn from EMS providers and stakeholders. The event will take place Monday, Jan. 23, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. in the Capitol Rotunda and will help bring awareness to the challenges and opportunities facing emergency services in Idaho.
“We’re trying to get understanding of the crisis that we’re facing if we do nothing,” said EMS Bureau Chief Wayne Denny. “EMS in Idaho has some dark days on the horizon if we don’t do something.”
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,” Denny 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,” Denny 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 a task force to find policy solutions—including draft legislative language—that will help assure reliable EMS response is available everywhere in Idaho.
The task force first met in June 2022 and will continue to meet as needed. Four workgroups were formed to explore solutions between monthly meetings.
Another recent development includes hiring six contracted EMS planners who will work with Idaho’s 44 counties to document current EMS response capabilities, best practices, and resource requirements for a sustained EMS response.
Denny said the intent for EMS Day is to educate 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.