In Idaho, 69% of rural areas rely on EMS volunteers, according to a report from the state’s Office of Performance Evaluation.
BOISE, Idaho — According to the Idaho Office of Performance Evaluation (OPE), rural communities in Idaho continue to struggle with emergency medical services. Idaho law doesn’t designate EMS as an essential service, so they don’t receive much funding through the state.
Later this week, the Health Quality Planning Commission (HQPC) of the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare will meet to discuss ways to fill the EMS gaps and plan for the future.
As state leaders seek solutions for EMS across the state, local schools are also doing the work. Idaho Medical Academy, located in Boise, trains approximately 500 emergency medical technicians (EMT) each year.
The school also offers classes in CPR, Advanced EMT, Phlebotomy Technicians, and more. In total, they see about 3,000 students every year.
“This is the first step for students interested in health care,” said Justin Raney, the Academy’s director. He added that their training could lead to people becoming paramedics, working in a hospital, fire service and even on a ski patrol.
The school trains people from all over Idaho and the country with its online and hybrid classes, so even rural parts of states can participate and receive training. Raney said the programs allow people to work at their own pace if they have another job or obligation, while also not having to travel to Boise if they don’t live nearby. Students complete their assignments online and then travel to Boise to complete a hands-on skills week where they learn tools to become an EMT.
Raney said they have been able to meet a need in rural areas of Idaho such as Riggins EMS and Orchard Fire Department, where many departments are volunteer and underfunded.
“Most of their funding comes from volunteers who run community events and things like that,” Raney said. “When COVID hit, a lot of those community events went away and lost a lot of resources.”
In Idaho, 69% of rural areas rely on volunteers, according to a report from OPE. It also shows that the state of Idaho has nearly 2,000 EMS volunteers, who make up 40% of EMS providers statewide.
Raney believes that while many people want to serve their communities, rural offices are hurting in areas that do not have enough access to training and education nearby or that it is too expensive to hire an instructor for the department and in to rent. He said hybrid classes could help fill the EMS staff shortage more quickly.
“[A department] may have one person who only needs their EMT [certification] and they say, “Hey, we can’t teach.” But they can come in remotely and take a course through us and get that person to become an EMT,” Raney said.
After a student graduated from one of the Idaho Medical Academy courses, Raney said they sometimes helped place in rural areas that struggle to find staff.
EMT student Colton Baratti takes his newfound EMT knowledge to Twin Falls, where he is surrounded by diverse communities such as Jerome, Kimberly, Hansen and Buhl.
He is originally from Filer, where his father was a volunteer firefighter. He enjoyed watching his father help put out fires in the community and interact with neighbors.
Although he plans to work for the Twin Falls Fire Department someday, he said he wouldn’t mind working for a smaller agency. Baratti said as the Magic Valley grows, he knows those departments need more help.
“I think it’s very important for people from the hometown who know the area very well and anything to help the fire brigade or ambulance or paramedics,” Baratti said. He added hopes to fill needed staffing gaps.
According to the agenda of the HQPC, they will meet on August 4 to discuss staffing levels in EMS agencies nationwide. They will discuss OPE’s report, which will be presented by Wayne Denny, head of EMS’s DHW office and preparedness.
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