Rural EMS issues take center stage at national conference

National Rural EMS Conference attendees asked to identify unique attributes and barriers to success

SAN ANTONIO — National Rural EMS Conference attendees were given the unique opportunity to voice their opinions about the state of rural EMS to Christy Edwards, a representative from the Federal Office of Rural Health Policy who presented at the conference. 

The audience of more than 200 EMS leaders and agency representatives were asked to identify what makes rural EMS unique, as well as the biggest barriers these agencies face along with providing examples of the additional types of resources they need to improve EMS in their communities. They were then given the opportunity to describe community projects they had success with or would like to receive assistance implementing. 

Many of the more common themes were summarized by Kevin Crown, director of EMS at Mitchell County Region Medical Center. He argued that personnel were his greatest resource, but that they were also something he had the most difficulty recruiting and maintaining to an acceptable standard. 

Christy Edwards, Federal Office of Rural Health Policy, discussing influences to rural EMS
Christy Edwards, Federal Office of Rural Health Policy, discussing influences to rural EMS (Photo courtesy of Matt Strycker)

Others voiced opinions, citing issues with creating buy-in from those in power within their community, navigating the grant application process, creating relationships with Native American tribes and pursuing successful collaborative relationships when incentives between organizations didn’t align. 

One of the better received commenters was Arron Paduaevans, the Section Chief of EMS for the Center for Health Protection within the Arkansas Department of Health. He described the quarterly meetings that all EMS medical directors in Arkansas attend and explained that these meetings allow for an exchange of ideas and provide a forum for solving some of the more current issues EMS organizations within his state are facing. These quarterly meetings have proven so successful that the medical directors have chosen to take steps towards approving a state-wide set of protocols. 

Memorable quotes
"If we can measure success in terms of dollars saved and patient health status, that’s evidence we can take to other [federal] agencies that make those rules"
 Christy Edwards, Project Officer, Federal Office of Rural Health Policy

"Strong rural EMS organizations have strong leadership."

"Don't be afraid to practice your craft"
 Arron Paduaevans, Section Chief of EMS, Center for Health Protection, Arkansas Department of Health

Key takeaways
After listening to the comments and suggestions from many in the audience, here are my key takeaways:

  • Rural EMS agencies across the United States share many of the same concerns around staffing and funding issues.
  • A national conference has provided a pivotal forum for the exchange of ideas and best practices.
  • The federal government is listening and recognizes that the challenges faced by rural EMS providers are different than their urban counterparts.

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