Pandemic Could Boost Case for Iowa First Responders' 'Essential' Status
Tuesday, May 26, 2020
WEST DES MOINES, Iowa -- As the coronavirus pandemic continues to unfold, Iowa's first responders say the state should no longer hold off on declaring Emergency Medical Services an essential service.
That status is something EMS workers in Iowa have sought long before COVID-19. Being declared "essential" would require ambulance service across the state, instead of relying on a patchwork of volunteers, agencies and providers.
Mark McCulloch, deputy chief of EMS for West Des Moines Emergency Medical Services, says he thinks the current crisis will prompt those who have resisted such a move to reconsider.
"The understanding of how important and how critical our services are, I think, is increased," he states.
McCulloch says the lack of guaranteed emergency medical services is especially a problem in rural parts of Iowa, where younger adults are moving away and reducing volunteer ranks.
Having the state approve a plan to guarantee emergency medical services would open the door to funding for EMS in these communities. But some tax revenue would also be needed, a move that some lawmakers oppose.
Stacy Frelund, government relations director for the American Heart Association of Iowa, says even though the state's budget has been battered by the economic downturn, that doesn't mean this funding should fall into a political debate.
"Being able to get them some more resources that they need throughout the state, I think is really, really important, especially now in the time of COVID -- when, you know, there's a lot of uncertainty," she stresses.
And beyond the current crisis, Frelund says rural areas need a stronger network of ambulance service for heart attacks and stroke-related calls.
Just before the pandemic, various bills were being considered in the Iowa House. Their supporters hope they see a revival as lawmakers take a long look at the state budget when they reconvene in early June.
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