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||Contact: Geni Mertsching, Allied Health Coordinator,
Workforce Training Program Poised to Help Communities
Improve Rural Emergency Medical Services
LEWISTON-Flying in the face of college-wide budget cuts, Lewis-Clark State's Workforce
Training Program has managed to offered additional learning opportunities to vital health
care providers in small communities.
With funding from a federal grant, LC's Workforce Training Program is offering expanded
training opportunities for emergency medical technicians in rural areas of the state. From
the Powell Ranger Station to Riggins, Orofino, Cottonwood and communities in between,
training for EMTs has become more accessible.
In addition to the training opportunities, the project is also expected to enhance
recruitment of more EMT personnel. Part of the effort will be directed at making
communities more aware of the need for volunteers in emergency medical services.
"Without people volunteering their time and energy to provide needed services to
rural communities, health care and emergency care would be compromised," said Geni
Mertsching, Allied Health Coordinator for the program.
Mertsching explained: "Without this awareness, volunteers can be few and far
between-and those who volunteer may not always be ready and available twenty-four hours a
day, seven days a week. By recruiting and training more volunteers, the ability to have
rural EMS units respond to emergencies improves." She said.
Despite the importance of emergency medical services, EMT groups and the small rural
hospitals have often found it difficult to recruit and train new volunteers, or to retrain
current staff. The shortage of people and resulting problems are expected to compound with
an expected influx of visitors to rural areas, as tourists retrace the steps of Lewis and
Clark during the upcoming Bicentennial celebration.
Demonstrating a potential outcome, Mertsching said, "Imagine calling 911 and being
told, 'There is no one available in your area at this time; it will be 45-60 minutes
before an ambulance will arrive.' Sometimes we take for granted the ability to call 911
and get an immediate response. In our rural areas, quick response is not a right, but a
gift from the local community EMS volunteers."
According to Director of Community Development, Grants and Contracts Mary Emery, many EMT
units were established in the 1970's when the federal government supported the development
of emergency medical systems through legislation. Since the 1980's, however, financial
responsibility for these systems has been turned over to state and local governments. As a
result, services often vary from community to community.
As an example of the disparity between funding and services, Emery offered the following:
Hawaii's EMS system is completely state-funded and in 1996, allowed an approximately $27
per-capita expenditure. By comparison, Idaho budgets $1.90 per-capita for these services.
And much of that funding goes to a statewide radio communication system for EMS and for
monitoring programs and setting standards rather than for support of direct services.
Idaho units are often equipped and maintained solely by volunteer EMTs and financial
support that comes by way of donations and fund raising alone, Emery said.
The rural EMS grant project is currently in its second year of existence. The first year
focused on equipping EMS units with computers and Internet access to facilitate
communication and develop an online EMT Basic training course. In this second year, the
first EMT Basic course is being taught to twelve volunteers in an on-line format.
The class began in mid-January and should be completed by April. "It has been
challenging to coordinate the required hands-on skills training with the on-line course
work, but we've developed a pretty good system," Emery said. Students log-on to the
training course, receive their reading and workbook assignments, and participate in
on-line "classroom" interaction. The course is presented in modules and the
students must complete modules in order to participate in the skills training.
Ultimately, students who complete the course are in position to pass the national
certification exam. "The rigid national exam has a low pass rate; our goal is to
provide a means to improve delivery of information and increase the percentage of people
passing the test," Emery said. "Once the student has passed the exam, he or she
can then volunteer with a local emergency medical services units-thereby increasing the
availability of those services in Idaho communities."