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Kentucky Health News: Volunteer emergency medical squads becoming less numerous

By Kentucky Health News

(Sept. 19, 2012) – Volunteer emergency medical service squads appear to be dying out around the nation as rural populations change and EMS evolves, and Kentucky is no exception.

Volunteer squads have long been the sole emergency responders in many rural areas, reports Candi Helseth of the health-oriented Rural Assistance Center, but according to a 2010 study, “Rural Volunteer EMS: Reports from the Field,” 69 percent of 49 local EMS directors in 23 states reported problems recruiting and retaining volunteers.

The North Carolina Rural Health Research and Policy Analysis Center study reported three main reasons for loss of EMS volunteers: high numbers of retirees or elderly in rural areas are unlikely to have physical strength required for EMS, many working-age individuals leave rural areas to find jobs elsewhere, and volunteers have too many obligations to cover weekends. Almost three-quarters of the all-volunteer EMS agencies hosted fundraising events to get necessary funding, requiring further time commitments.

Volunteer fire departments have reported similar problems, but volunteer firefighters are called out less often and often receive stipends for attending meetings and training, said Michael Poynter, executive director of the Kentucky Board of Emergency Medical Services. He told Kentucky Health News that that state is part of the national trend away from volunteer EMTs, but still has 17 services that are fully volunteer and 35 that use a mixture of paid EMTs and volunteers. Kentucky has more than 250 licensed emergency medical services.

Kentucky Health News is a service of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, based in the School of Journalism and Telecommunications at the University of Kentucky, with support from the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky.