A bill signed into law last week by Governor Kim Reynolds gives the green light, from the state level, for more funding to be piped into emergency medical services (EMS) agencies around Iowa, should individual counties act on it.
Senate File 615 makes EMS an essential service in Iowa, like fire and police already are, but in order for counties to take advantage of the designation, a board of supervisors will need to put a tax benefiting EMS up for voter approval in their county, and 60% support is needed for it to pass. Such a measure would also require EMS districts to be drawn, similar to fire districts, so that money could be distributed from the tax.
Chris Roberts, EMS Manager at Adair County Health System, said that while the hospital already levies tax money, a bill like this could help smaller agencies the most, such as Fontanelle or Adair Rescue.
Agencies like these are self-sustaining and are often funded through events like pancake suppers and often battle with keeping costs down.
Some agencies simply can’t survive. Bridgewater and Menlo are two area communities that have recently discontinued providing ambulance service through their fire departments.
“That puts strains on other services when [communities close their agencies] because then other agencies have to expand their boundaries and pick up the slack,” Roberts said. “It’s understandable, but then it puts stress on the other departments.”
Fontanelle is beginning the transition to paid EMS services through its fire department because of rising costs of operating, said assistant fire chief Tyson Sickles.
“I think this gives the opportunity for more money to come into these departments,” Sickles said. “Any way we can get any help back from our board of supervisors or tax payers, we’re going to take any advantage we can get at this point.”
Despite the obvious hoops that still need to be passed through on the local level, Roberts is encouraged by EMS becoming essential in the state.
“Prior to this senate file being passed, fire and police protection had to be provided but EMS didn’t have to be provided. This will make it a requirement,” Roberts said. “Really, this bill doesn’t automatically make it a requirement but is a tool that can be utilized. The work is not completely done yet — now it has to happen at a local level as well. A likely first step will be to create EMS Advisory Committee of local stakeholders that include not only EMS trained professionals, but also local elected officials such as county supervisors and citizens to direct next actions that might be needed.”