AHEC Senate Bill 911 Offers Rural EMS Agencies Hope

11/21/00    Portland, Ore.

AHEC Senate Bill 911 Offers Rural EMS Agencies Hope.

When someone has a heart attack in rural Oregon it could take between 25 minutes and two hours, depending on where in Oregon you are, for an ambulance with trained EMTs to arrive on the scene. The first person on the scene in those areas is usually a first responder, someone trained in basic first aid, cardiopulmonary resuscitation and the use of a heart defibrillator. But there aren't enough trained EMTs or first responders to cover all the mountains and valleys of Oregon because the local communities can't always afford to train them. However, those precious minutes between a heart attack and a trained professional arriving on scene can be the difference between life and death.

The Area Health Education Centers Program at Oregon Health Sciences University is increasing the number of trained emergency professionals by offering scholarship funds for EMT education in rural areas of the state. AHEC is providing the scholarships through funding from Senate Bill 911. Since the EMT Education Fund started distributing funds in August, 22 agencies have taken advantage of the program, resulting in 267 students receiving training. Now the program is recruiting for its next round of scholarships and applications are due Dec. 1.

SB 911, passed by the 1999 Oregon Legislature, created a funding stream to assist rural emergency medical services. The funds come from traffic fines around the state and are divided among four different agencies -- 35 percent goes to the AHEC for emergency medical technician training. Another 35 percent goes to the Office of Rural Health for emergency medical services equipment, upgrades and expansions, 25 percent goes to the Oregon Health Department to assess rural EMS needs, and 5 percent goes to the Oregon Poison Center at OHSU.

John West, division chief training officer for North Lincoln Fire and Rescue, said 60 percent of the calls they respond to are medical emergencies. His agency used to be lucky if it could afford to send one or two people every year to EMT training. AHEC's EMT Education Fund is allowing them to send seven of its 48 volunteers to basic EMT training this term. West is hoping another seven will be awarded scholarships in the next round this December. His goal is to get all of his volunteers trained in the basic EMT skills. The difference between being a first responder and a basic EMT is recognizing injuries such as spinal injuries, assessing potential internal injuries, and an increased level of confidence in these types of high-stress situations.

"This training will mean better service and a quicker response from us. That's always a plus when you're dealing with minutes between life and death," said West. He's taking advantage of the EMT Education Fund by receiving his intermediate EMT training. This advanced training will allow West to administer life-saving medications on scene.

"I envision these dollars assuring more continuous coverage for rural areas that are in the greatest need," said Gail Moser, Northeast Oregon AHEC EMT education coordinator.

The EMT Education Fund also reimburses for related travel expenses, another obstacle to continuing education for many rural EMTs. The only basic EMT in Juntura, a town of 35 people along busy state Highway 20 in southeast Oregon, hopes to get her intermediate training during the next cycle of funding. The community college in Ontario, 78 miles away, is the closest location to receive that training. The training will start in the middle of winter and require her to be in Ontario two nights a week for five months. Rural EMTs sacrifice a lot to get the special training needed to handle emergency medical situations. But one intermediate EMT said it's worth it.

"In a small community, where you know everybody, not being able to help them is an awful feeling," said Heather Collins, intermediate EMT with Vale Fire and Ambulance. "I've taken members of my own family to the hospital in Ontario. As long as I'm a volunteer, I know my family and community will be taken care of."

Any EMS provider who serves a rural area 10 miles or more from a population center of 30,000 or less and responds to public need within the 911 system qualifies for funding. However, Moser said, greater consideration is being given to volunteer agencies, new EMT training and groups representing more than one community or agency in a region. Applications for the next round of funding are due Dec. 1. Fund recipients should receive notice by the first of the new year. For more information about the EMT Education Fund, please call Moser at the Northeast Oregon AHEC at 541 962-3899.

EMS agencies that have benefited from the EMS Education Fund already include:

    * Alsea Rural Fire Protection District (RFPD)
    * Arlington Ambulance Service
    * Camas Valley RFPD
    * Cascade Locks
    * Central Coast Fire District
    * Depoe Bay Rural Fire District (RFD)
    * Glide RFPD
    * Hoskins-Kings Valley
    * Huntington,
    * Monitor RFD
    * Morrow County Ambulance Service
    * North Lincoln Fire & Rescue
    * Odell Fire Department
    * Powder River (RFPD)
    * Riddle Volunteer Fire Department
    * Sherman County Ambulance
    * Sherman County Emergency Service
    * Spray Volunteer Ambulance
    * South Wasco County Ambulance
    * South Gilliam County Ambulance
    * Wallowa County Health Care
    * Woodburn Ambulance
    * Unity Quick Response Unit