OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Paramedics and emergency medical technicians urged state lawmakers Wednesday to update Oklahoma's emergency services network and allocate more tax dollars for medical workers who save lives.
Dozens of uniformed emergency medical workers rallied at the state Capitol to observe EMS Week and focus attention on legislation that would reorganize the state's system of EMS ambulances and emergency personnel and pump $4.5 million into the system.
``Four-point-five million dollars is not much when it comes to saving people's lives,'' said Rep. Paul Roan, D-Tishomingo. ``You're the front line. You should be recognized ... in the way that you really deserve.''
Roan, a retired Oklahoma Highway Patrol trooper, said EMS workers frequently face the same risks as police and firefighters but often are not paid as well and struggle to update vehicles and emergency medical equipment.
He said the legislation, which passed the Senate, probably will not be heard in the House before the Legislature adjourns on Friday. The bill can be brought back up again next year.
Reorganization of emergency services statewide was recommended by the Emergency Readiness Task Force appointed by Gov. Brad Henry in 2005. The panel suggested creating regional emergency services districts that would pool resources now offered by individual cities and counties and respond to emergency calls over a wider area.
The system also needs an integrated communications system that would permit emergency workers to communicate with fire, police and other first responders.
``EMS is at a crossroads. Our present system is failing,'' Roan said. The current system was set up in the 1970s and received higher reimbursement rates than EMS services receive today, he said. The result has been that 46 ambulance services in the state have shut down since 2000.
Much of the proposed new funding would go to better training for EMS workers, said Ronnie Kessler, chief of the Chickasha Fire Department.
Kessler said Chickasha's EMS service is adequately funded but that high fuel prices, the cost of upgrading equipment and the loss of other EMS services in surrounding rural areas is straining Chickasha's system.
``If services around us continue to collapse, that's going to put more pressure on us,'' he said.
Kessler said Medicare reimbursement rates for ambulances services are a big part of the funding problem. Medicare pays 27 percent less than what it costs to transport a patient, he said.
It costs $300,000 a year to operate a single, 24-hour ambulance service, authorities said.
Shawn Rogers, state EMS director, said there are more than 100 EMS services still operating in Oklahoma but that 10 rural communities, including Clayton in southeastern Oklahoma and the Vici-Camargo area in northwestern Oklahoma, have no EMS service.
``The gaps between the nots are getting bigger and bigger,'' Rogers said.