State could relax rules for rural ambulance drivers

Norton — A shortage of trained medical personnel has left many rural county ambulance services having to delay hospital transfers to ensure they have enough staff for emergencies.

For example, in Norton County in northwest Kansas, the county’s 5,400 residents are served by six full-time workers and nine volunteers, who respond to all 911 calls and take patients from one hospital to another.

“Sometimes patients needing to be transferred are left waiting,” said Craig Sowards, Norton County EMS director.

In response to the problem, a proposal before the state Legislature would allow drivers without medical training to transport stable patients in rural areas, which sometimes can take hours. Ambulances would still need to have one person with medical training riding in the back, such as an EMT or a nurse, The Kansas News Service reports.

Some state and local EMS officials say having only one trained person on board could be risky.

“Occasionally patients decline and it’s often helpful to have an extra set of hands to stabilize (patients) before they move on,” said David Johnston, president of the Kansas Emergency Medical Services Association.

Joe House, executive director of the Kansas Board of Emergency Medical Services, defended current regulations that require two medically trained workers on board.

“We write our regulations to protect the public’s well-being and safety,” House said. “It’s either safe to do or not safe to do.”

Emergency medical services are competing with clinics, hospitals and schools for trained personnel — and offer a starting wage of only about $21,000 a year, House said.

Pete Rogers, EMS director for Phillips County, said he can’t imagine operating ambulances without two medically trained personnel on board.

“If you have somebody that’s simply a driver and you still have two technicians in the back of the truck with the patient, then I see absolutely no problems with it,” he said. “But I would be concerned if it was a noncertified person driving and only one technician in the back.”

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