Iowa county takes first step towards making EMS an essential service
Wapello County Board of Supervisors have moved towards a referendum but worry about EMS funding
By Chad Drury
OTTUMWA, Iowa — It was a small step, but a meaningful one.
It also left questions about immediacy.
The Wapello County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday approved setting date of Oct. 17 for the first reading of a resolution to make emergency medical services essential in the county. Whether there is enough time to get a referendum on the November ballot remains a mystery.
According to Iowa law, in this case, a resolution has to be published “no less than 60 days” before the first reading of it. Three readings are recommended, with the final reading approving it.
EMS coordinator Tim Richmond said “it’s urgent,” but there are more steps that have to take place, namely the part of the resolution the sets up an advisory council that would report to the supervisors.
“The EMS council, which we will make recommendations and bring to you, also need time to do some research and bring some hard data and numbers to you for that next step,” Richmond said. “The ask today is to entertain the resolution.
“We’re not setting anything up for a ballot, just doing a resolution that acknowledges EMS as an essential service, and gives the option in the future to put something on the ballot.”
It wasn’t clear if the resolution would pass in time for the November ballot, though auditor Kelly Spurgeon said she would check with the Iowa Secretary of State’s office for guidance. It’s possible the county would have to call a special election for it.
Cindy Hewitt, president of the Wapello County Emergency Management Association, emphasized the need for the county to take this route. Five counties last November approved EMS as an essential service, but funding for EMS has dried up, leaving many counties with no choice but to levy for it to assist residents.
Under the law signed by Gov. Kim Reynolds in 2021, counties may levy up to 75 cents per $1,000 of valuation for EMS.
“It’s not just something in Wapello County. It’s all the counties around us. It’s statewide and nationwide,” Hewitt said. “There’s going to have to be some tax funding to be able to support this. You pay for law enforcement. You pay for the fire department, and if you expect an ambulance, you’re going to have to pay for that.
“A fee for service isn’t going to cut it anymore. The only way you make money in an ambulance service is with transfers. We have to be proactive. We’ve been looking at this for 15 years, and it’s time for us to act.”
Part of the problem with EMS, Richmond said, is the lack of a workforce in that area of expertise. He helped establish a four-county internship program this summer to train EMTs and those that want to explore the health care industry.
But more must be done, he said.
“We are feeling the effects of major shifts in our workforce, economy and health care demands,” Richmond said. “The way we’ve always provided EMS and funded them is no longer sustainable.”
Supervisors Darren Batterson and Bryan Ziegler approved the date for the first reading; supervisor Brian Morgan was absent.