Ambulance Service Area (ASA) contracts have lapsed and some rural ambulance providers are struggling to provide timely service due to a chronic shortage of volunteers, emergency manager Sheridan McClellan told Wasco County commissioners Aug. 8.
The agreements, which contract for ambulance coverage throughout the county, lapsed in December of 2017 when changes requested by the Oregon Health Authority could not be made because the county’s emergency management position was vacant. OHA agreed to an extension, and contracts should be renewed before the plan is resubmitted, McClellan said.
The lack of active contracts raises both liability and process issues for the county, said Sheriff Lane Magill, although ambulance services are still being provided by those agencies.
In addition, a significant lack of volunteers, especially in medical response, was identified as a serious concern among most rural ambulance districts in the county.
There have been situations where no driver was available, and an agency simply can’t respond to an emergency, McClellan said. This delayed response, as an ambulance had to be dispatched from a nearby district. “So maybe it takes an hour, instead of 30 minutes, for them to arrive,” he said. “A lot can happen in an hour.”
McClellan said long-time volunteers are getting older, and young people are not staying in town, or not interested in volunteering. Magill added that a lot of the dynamics for rural agencies, like funding and training requirements, had changed over the years as well. “The contracts have certain requirements, but we aren’t enforcing those contracts,” he said.
Commissioner Scott Hege said the county needed timely ambulance service. “The point is, someone needs to respond and respond quickly. They can’t come an hour later,” he said.
Commission chair Steve Kramer said the Dufur fire district was doing okay, but Maupin, Tygh Valley and Wamic were all experiencing a volunteer shortage.
McClellan suggested the county revive the ASA contracts for a year or two, while the county looks into ways to increase the volunteer base, and looks into the possibility of supplementing services with full or part time medical service positions paid for by the county.
The commission agreed, and a one-year extension of the contracts, once reviewed by legal council, was suggested during an afternoon work session.
The extension will give the county time to develop a response to a related issue, the lack of volunteer fire and medical personnel in the rural districts.