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Digging Deeper: Shortage of volunteer EMS workers in rural areas

MADISON (WKOW) — Many companies that provide medical service in rural areas are having trouble finding volunteers.

Marc Cohen, the head of the Wisconsin EMS Association, says these services typically aren’t funded well because of low reimbursements from Medicare and Medicaid, and because of the levy limits on cities, towns and villages. The volunteer positions can also be hard to staff because of their nature. Volunteers are often people who work a separate 9-to-5 job and not everyone can make the commitment to the extra work.

Cohen says he gets calls every week about medical care service providers talking about consolidating or combining services.

"This is a real and continuing challenge," Cohen tells 27 News. "I think the state of Wisconsin is looking at this as a crisis situation in not too long a future."

He says we’ll continue to see significant challenges, unless there are changes to Medicare and Medicaid and the levy cap.

Moving forward, Cohen says the goal would be to pass legislation to make EMS a required service. Right now, it’s only required at the county level. Cities, towns and villages don’t have that same requirement.

There has been recent progress in helping people in rural areas receive medical care. Cohen points out a recent measure that allows paramedics and EMTs to do checkups on patients. Another recent bill signed into law that allows 911 dispatchers to give CPR instructions to callers in case someone goes into cardiac arrest. 


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