FAIRFIELD — Rural Ambulance services like the one in Teton County, provide valuable lifesaving services, especially when those in need are long distances from major medical centers and time is of the essence. But an upcoming decision by a state board could have a major impact on how rural patients are treated.
Leon Beachy and Diane Teeter serve as EMT’s in Teton County because it’s a way to serve their community.
But that level of service could soon sustain a setback.
Beachy is concerned the state will do away with his Intermediate AEMT-I99 designation.
“On a personal level, it's the skills that we worked so hard to acquire with lots of time and effort,” said Beachy and advanced EMT who also serves as crew chief for the department. “On a community level, which is more important, its the skills and medications that all our patients will lose.
The endorsement puts him between a paramedic and a typical advanced EMT and gives him the ability to perform and administer lifesaving procedures and drugs.
“Over and above what an EMT with endorsements can do it would be intubations, cardiac medications both for cardiac arrest and arrhythmias and seizure medications to stop seizures. There are some like needle decompression, pain medications,” said Beachy.
He says he’s used his skills often. He recently responded to a seizure that fortunately was over by the time he arrived. Without the designation, patients like that could lose valuable time waiting for paramedics from Great Falls or Mercy Flight.
“If there was a seizure, I would no longer have any seizure medication. I have no way of stopping it,” said Beachy.
“And in that instance, Mercy Flight was not available, so they were not able to respond to us on that case,” said Teeter, an advanced EMT with Teon County EMS.
“That was real life, you know,” said Beachey.
Beachy says the state followed a national registry and in 2015 dropped the designation, but some EMT’s like him were grandfathered in, keeping the endorsement.
He says it could be something as simple as changing the title of the designation but is frustrated with the lack of communication from the Montana Board of Medical Examiners which governs EMT’s.
“There's talk that, well, they're just going to leave it at a local level,” said Beachy. “Well, that doesn't really work, because they still have to have a way of governing each level, making protocols.”
Beachy says they learned of the possible change through third-party communication.
Originally there were over a hundred I-99s in Montana, now there are just 24.
Teeter says Teton County is blessed to have three as well as one in nearby Augusta. She says I-99s need to be commended for investing hundreds of hours of classroom and clinical time.
“There's a lot of hours and a lot of work, a lot of continuing education that went into them obtaining these licenses,” said Teeter. “They do that on their own time. They do that out of their own pocket.”
The Montana Board of Medical Examiners falls under the umbrella of the Montana Department of Labor and Industry.
The agency issued a statement to MTN regarding the issue.
“This change, which is still only under consideration by the Board and has not been finalized, would bring Montana into alignment with national standards set a decade ago by the National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians (NREMT),” said Public Information Officer Jessica Nelson.
“The Board will take the feedback it receives from stakeholders and licensees into consideration before making a final decision.”
The Montana State Board of Medical Examiners meets next on September 29. Residents who want to show support can contact the state through a form available on the Teton County Emergency Services facebook page. The deadline to submit is September 22.