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Honoring Montana's rural EMS providers

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Posted at 7:07 PM, May 24, 2024

TETON COUNTY — May 19th-May 25th is National EMS week according the National Association of Emergency Medical Technicians.

Honoring Montana's rural EMS providers

It’s a great time of year to make sure an EMT or paramedic in your community receives their due recognition.

EMS In Montana’s rural counties, have it the hardest. Combine long travel distances and poor volunteer retention, there can be a lot of stress. According to the National Rural Health Association, 53% of Rural EMS providers are staffed by volunteers.

“Everybody seems to be busy nowadays and there does seem to be a lack in maybe the community volunteer spirit that used to be around,” says Leon Beachy, Ambulance Crew Chief in Fairfield.

Extensive studying, having to pay through trainings, and then receiving no pay unless responding to a call, all keep many Montanans from signing up. Unfortunately due to the small scale, it can be hard to justify salaries.

“There's not enough call volume to have a paid crew,” says Beachy.

Montana’s EMS programs are not considered ‘essential’, like fire crews or law enforcement, therefore, they aren’t afforded the same benefits and protections others are entitled to, per the state government.

Currently, EMS is considered essential in 13 states and the District of Columbia. These include Connecticut, Hawaii, Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, Maine, Nebraska, Nevada, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia. Massachusetts and New York have pending legislation. Idaho is drafting legislation while Wyoming rejected a bill to make EMS essential in summer 2023.

Though voices are pushing to have EMS become an essential service in the Treasure State, Montana’s Legislature is making some concessions. The House backed a bill a couple of months ago to increase funding for ambulance services. Ambulance stations are closing around the state because Montana’s lower than average rate for medicaid reimbursements can’t cover the cost of medical service.

“The question I would like to ask any of our governing officials that are okay with it being a non essential service is, ‘When we need to respond to them, are they okay with it being non-essential when we don't show up to their mother or to their kid?’”, says Beachy.

The path forward appears promising, and not all is bleak. Rural EMS services like Dutton and Fairfield routinely engage with residents and school-children, planting the seed for the prospect of future EMS work. In the smallest towns, people see the work and appreciate it.

Having the children know you and say, ‘You responded to my dad!’ or, we were able to deliver a baby many years ago for a young mother in our town,” says Colleen Campbell, Ambulance Crew Chief in Dutton.