From the pages of
The Sublette County Journal
Volume 5, Number 9 - 10/26/00
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

Why Not Pay the EMTs?

I'm hoping the Rural Health Care District Board will soon use the heel of its hand to smack itself on the forehead with a sudden realization of the obvious. Of course the emergency medical technicians (EMTs) should be contracted as a paid service. Why there is even a moment's hesitation in this regard escapes me. The only thing that comes to mind is the health care board has become so used to getting high-quality service from the EMTs essentially for free that the board is taking the service for granted and is now antsy about the idea of finally having to pay for it.

A lot goes into an emergency medical service. It does not just suddenly spring forth already formed and staffed with qualified people willing to unhinge their lives for its sake. Nor does it stay a top line unit without lots of commitment and effort. There are countless in-state and out-of-state conferences to attend. There is ceaseless education to achieve and maintain the various necessary certifications. All of this takes time. All of this costs money. This is not like some commercial endeavor where costs can be minimized by taking shortcuts in training or procedures bent to reduce the time involved.

Then there are the personal prices to pay. Being an EMT is an enormously stressful job without even counting the strain of having to put up with an unappreciative health care board. Life itself hangs in the balance. An EMT's personal and family life can develop some severe kinks. When you are on call, you cannot leave town or even stray far from your home. Better keep your ears perked and not mow the lawn or cut firewood or play loud music or vacuum your rug in case a call comes in. Better have a plan for your young children as you are trying to respond to an emergency in under six minutes at three o'clock in the morning when its 15 degrees below zero outside. And all this for a whopping $1 per hour.

If we can afford a $5 million courthouse expansion (with the inevitable cost-doubling overruns) and a nearly $1 million ag center then certainly we can afford to pay and pay well the devoted folks who comprise our EMT units. It's not like they are asking for very much, just to pay a few full time people to provide some relief to the volunteers.

The Pinedale service, for instance, made 140 runs in 1995. Last year it made 350 runs. Do the math. As our population grows, and also grows increasingly aged, the demands on our emergency medical services will continue to escalate. Barring a hospital being built in Sublette County, which is not likely any time soon, those ambulance runs will remain lengthy and time consuming. Chances are quite good that every single one of us will use the emergency medical service at least once in our lives. Some of us will use it more frequently. When disease or misfortune threatens to shuck me of this mortal coil, I'd like the EMTs who end up dealing with my fibrillating carcass to be happy with the work and not worrying about whether they will be fired from their regular jobs or smarting from oafish remarks by health care board members.

I understand the board's reluctance to be put in the position of having to supervise more employees but that seems a tiny obstacle in the larger scheme of things. An administrative solution to that is easily contemplated. Besides, the board flatters itself. What EMT in his or her right mind would want to work directly for such a generally hostile health care board?

Along with my recommendation and support for the paid positions, allow me to add a heartfelt and long overdo thank you to all the EMTs for their great work and selfless devotion to our collective well-being.

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