During their meeting Monday morning, the Wright County Board of Supervisors passed a resolution setting Tuesday, August 7th as the date for a special election to allow Wright County voters the opportunity to approve a special property tax levy for Emergency Medical Services operations in Wright County.
For the past decade EMS agencies across Iowa, including Wright County have been discussing the need for EMS System improvements. Ambulance services have seen declining volunteerism, decreased reimbursements, increased operational costs and overall system losses.
In August 2017 the Wright County Board of Supervisors declared EMS an Essential Service in Wright County and resolved to exercise the necessary power and functions appropriate to preserve the health, safety and welfare of Wright County residents and to provide for an effective and efficient EMS System that allows for quality medical care for persons living, working or traveling in Wright County.
The Board of Supervisors appointed an EMS System Advisory Council to provide guidance, research and direction on improving the EMS System in Wright County. Jim Lester, County Emergency Management Coordinator, was named chairperson of the Advisory Council and presented the group’s findings to the Board during Monday’s Public Hearing on EMS.
During his presentation, Lester reminded the Board that Iowa does not recognize EMS as an essential service; “Despite many attempts the last few years, our state legislators just can’t get a bill to pass making EMS an essential service at the state level,” explained Lester. “The Advisory Council looked at many different options and with the assistance of County Attorney Eric Simonson, decided to pursue using Iowa Code 422D, which allows the Board of Supervisors to offer for voter approval a property tax levy to specifically fund EMS.”
Currently the ambulance services in Wright County are experiencing a combined loss of nearly $500,000. In 2016, the City of Dows notified surrounding services that they would no longer be providing ambulance service, mainly due to lack of qualified staffing.
“With the expected growth in Wright County, having well-trained and equipped ambulance services to respond to emergencies anywhere in the county is important,” explained Board Chairman Karl Helgevold.
The plan proposed by the Advisory Council recommends the Board of Supervisors establish agreements with Iowa Specialty Hospital to provide for a county EMS Coordinator, a county Medical Director and a Paramedic tier response vehicle based at the Clarion facility. In addition, the current county agreements with the ambulance services would be amended to provide additional funding for staffing, training and equipment.
The overall price tag on the plan is projected at $586,652 which calculates to about 67.8 cents per thousand of assessed property value.
“We are excited to be working with county and city leaders in making EMS essential in Wright County,” said Iowa Specialty Hospital CEO Steve Simonin. “While this plan doesn’t address all the issues facing rural emergency health care, it is a positive start and we’re hopeful the residents of the county will support it when they go to the polls in August.”
“Next week is National EMS Week and ironically the theme is EMS Strong – Stronger Together,” said Lester. “The EMS agencies in Wright County pledge to work together to provide improved emergency medical care to our residents and we believe this proposal will encourage that teamwork and provide for an improved overall EMS system.”
“We’ve just crossed the first hurdle, it’s now up to the voters to confirm that EMS is essential.” concluded Lester.