BOISE – Idaho’s emergency medical services are a disjointed patchwork of cities, counties, ambulance districts, fire departments, private firms and others, which has led to duplication, gaps in service and possible risks to patients, according to a state report issued Tuesday.
The problems have been debated for years, but the various entities involved never could come to agreement on changes. Now the state Legislature is preparing to step in.
“Let’s try to weed through the politics so that we can get to what’s best for Idaho,” said Sen. John McGee, R-Caldwell, who serves on both the Senate Health and Welfare Committee and the Joint Legislative Oversight Committee, which commissioned the report. “It’s a turf war – and they’ll tell you that,” McGee said.
The report recommends a shift to countywide systems with state oversight, saying, “Someone has to be in charge.”
The joint committee voted to work with the House and Senate Health and Welfare committee chairs to introduce legislation to change the system in the session that starts in January.
Over the years, the turf wars have gotten so bad that when the Sagle Fire District passed a resolution in 2000 to start transporting patients when needed, a private ambulance firm in the area sued. After it lost, the company appealed to the Idaho Supreme Court in 2004, where it lost again.
The report “identified the central issue,” said Dick Schultz, Idaho Department of Health and Welfare deputy director for health services. “You’ve got three different entities right now which can provide EMS services in any jurisdiction. The bureau currently has no authority to identify which of those three entities should be providing care.”
The report’s recommendations call for a new framework for EMS in Idaho, to be established by the Legislature and based around countywide EMS systems. They also call for creating local or regional governing authorities and a medical director to coordinate the local systems; an increased role for the Idaho Emergency Medical Services Bureau, which does the licensing; and revisions in the funding structure for EMS, all to be developed in concert with stakeholders, including the current agencies and providers.
Gov. Butch Otter backed the move. “The Department of Health and Welfare has been fulfilling its legislative mandate of regulating these services for over 30 years, but times have changed, and so must our regulatory approach,” Otter wrote in a letter dated Tuesday.