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Oklahoma EMS In Need Of A Life Line

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Longer response times and short staffed crews are just some of the problems facing EMS agencies in Oklahoma. The governor appointed a task force to study the problem, and their findings are in. EMS crews are in the life-saving business, but some say many of the agencies need a life line. Governor Brad Henry's EMS Readiness Task Force says it knows just what it takes to breathe life into a system some say is dying a slow death.

When seconds count, you count on them to be there, but one member of the Governor's EMS Readiness Task Force says they’re not ready. Rebecca Smith says budget cuts are to blame.

"EMS is in crisis, and it's not going to be very long before there are major problems,” said Smith.

She says the proof is reflected in the numbers. In five years, 45 different EMS agencies have closed in Oklahoma, leaving agencies like the one in Okmulgee to pick up the slack.

“And with fewer services there are longer response times, fewer medics to man trucks,” said Smith.

“We’re working longer hours which is stressful, and this job is stressful anyways," said paramedic Joey Gregory.

Gregory says the higher demands and lower pay has forced some medics into nursing, and others now work at fire departments, but Gregory says he's staying put, hoping the Governor's Task Force will help. Some of its recommendations include offering state tuition reimbursements for EMTs, rural outreach, tax breaks and retirement benefits.

To tackle funding, the task force wants to remove caps on taxes and implement a state investment of $5 million a year for the next four years.

"That's not a big price to pay verses not having an ambulance when you need one,” said Smith. “It's pay now or pay a lot more later."

The recommendations could become Oklahoma laws. Three bills containing them are working through the legislative process.
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