Take concerns to heart

By Observer editorial January 08, 2013 07:40 am
Elgin Emergency Medical Technician Tracy Christopher drew a telling picture of the needs of emergency medical services for the city council recently. Here’s hoping the governing body takes her concerns to heart and finds money in the city budget for upgrades.

Like many communities in rural Oregon, Elgin has seen demand for ambulance services rise steadily the last decade or so. As Christopher pointed out, Elgin Ambulance answered 140 calls in 2000, 150 in 2002 and a whopping 218 in 2010-11. There’s no reason to believe the numbers have anywhere to go but up.

Two EMT Basics, two EMT Intermediates and four non-certified drivers do an admirable job providing round-the-clock coverage, but the service faces the same problem all volunteer-driven programs face: without added incentives, it’s hard to retain committed, dedicated people.

Local training

The drivers want to improve themselves by taking the EMT Basic course, but only if the training is available locally. That’s perfectly understandable. The EMT Basic course, including classroom and practical work and study outside the classroom, takes six months to complete, and at the end there’s a rigorous testing process. It’s a huge undertaking for people who hold down full-time jobs outside ambulance work. Travel back and forth to a remote training site only adds to the challenge.

Christopher told the council there’s a chance Elgin can become a training “pod” with distance education available for those who want to become certified EMTs. At that, the class will cost $1,200 per student. Christopher said the ambulance service needs an additional $2,000 to help the four drivers fulfill their desire for professional development and upgrade to EMT status. She asked the council for financial
support to make that happen.

Small raise

Beyond that, Christopher suggested the council approve a small raise in the stipend EMTs and drivers get for calls. Currently, personnel receive $35 a run, and Christopher said she’d like to see that bumped to $45. It seems a small request, given all that ambulance folk accomplish for their community.

Elgin has a respected emergency medical service program staffed by people willing to give of their time for precious little reward. They often go on calls late at night, then work the next day at their jobs. They miss time with their friends and loved ones. They live always with the emotional stress and strain that comes with working on an ambulance.

Like most small towns around here, Elgin struggles with finances and will have to dig deep to find some additional EMS money in the next budget. But helping with the training costs and increasing the stipend is the smart thing to do. When it comes to a community service this vital, it’s far better to keep the people you know you can depend on, rather than recruit new ones over and over again.