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New law gives EMS departments chance to become essential service

Updated: Jun. 9, 2021 at 11:31 PM CDT
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MONTICELLO, Iowa (KCRG) - One of the last bills Governor Reynolds signed for the 2021 legislative session will help put emergency medical service (EMS) departments across the state on the same level as law enforcement and fire departments.

Governor Reynolds signed SF 615 into law at a ceremony at Monticello Ambulance Service Wednesday afternoon.

Nathan Wheeldon is a volunteer firefighter and EMT in Martensdale, south of Des Moines. For his 6-7 person team, this bill is huge. “Especially small rural departments, because there is no dedicated, for sure source of funding, each department, small EMS departments they have to be self-sustaining,” says Wheeldon.

Senate File 615 gives EMS departments in Iowa the chance to be declared an essential service. Being an essential service would open up access to more funding for departments like Wheeldon’s. He says more funding would be especially helpful to pay for training.

Anamosa Area Ambulance Service Director and paramedic Sheila Frink says with EMS not being an essential service, when people call for an ambulance, there’s no guarantee an ambulance would arrive, or where it would come from. She called the bill “groundbreaking,” as EMS departments work hard to provide life-saving services. “Really out of the goodness of many peoples hearts, especially those in the rural communities that have volunteer services. They get no, they’re not being paid for this, they’re doing pancake breakfasts and fundraisers to be able to buy new equipment and new ambulances,” says Frink.

Sandy Heick, a paramedic at Johnson County Ambulance Service, and EMS Coordinator at West Liberty Ambulance, says the bill is coming just in time. “Some ambulance services across the state are actually starting to close doors which causes expanding boundaries of other services and that’s going to create a downhill role that we don’t want to have happen,” says Heick.

To pay for this, the bill allows a county board of supervisors to put a tax benefiting EMS departments up for voter approval. 60% approval is required to pass.

Heick says she believes people will want to vote in favor of making EMS departments an essential service. “COVID, as bad as it was, brought EMS to a lot of peoples eyes, and EMS as healthcare workers. I think now more than any time it would be easy for people to recognize that they can’t be without it,” says Heick. She says the process for individual departments to be declared essential services will take time, but that this new law was an important first step.

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