An Iowa legislator, himself an emergency medical services provider, calls EMS the state's "forgotten service."
"I think most Iowans would be surprised to learn that EMS is not a required service," said Sen. Jeff Danielson, D-Cedar Falls, on Saturday in Dubuque. "I call 911 and say, 'I'm having a heart attack.' The response is: 'EMS is not required.' I don't know about you, but I like living.
"There is no legal requirement that when you have a heart attack and call 911, that any provider in Iowa has to show up. For police, fire, that's all true."
The lack of a legal mandate to provide emergency medical service was among the topics Danielson focused on as he led an EMS Stakeholders Summit at the Dubuque County Emergency Responders Training Facility. The event drew more than 60 people from across the state.
Danielson and others, including Pam Jochum, the Iowa Senate president, want to ensure that the same level of EMS service that exists in the state today is preserved and improved upon.
"It's very clear that the state needs to make some additional changes," she said. "We have to find out how we can better fund the system, provide the training that everyone needs, because every Iowan thinks that service is going to be there with just a 911 call. That's simply not the case statewide. The question is, what we can do to better manage the services we do have, be as efficient with taxpayer money as we can be, and still meet Iowans' health care and emergency service needs?"
Currently, emergency medical services in Iowa are funded from fees for service, through fundraisers and donations and, in some instances, through local government budgets when partnered with fire protection services, according to a state report.
"All across Iowa, emergency services providers do the best they can, but they can't do it without help," said Ric Jones, a Dubuque City Council member and emergency medical service professional. "All across the state we've got good volunteers who are flipping pancakes to pay for diesel fuel to run their trucks. We have leaders who are thinking it's not their problem, and it is."
Danielson and Jochum hope to address the state's EMS deficiencies during the upcoming legislative session.
"We have to be a better partner at the state level," Danielson said. "If you're not required to do something at the local level, chances are it's not on your list. Think about that. We've had a system where we've had pretty good response around the state for a lot of years, but we're at a breaking point."
Danielson said EMS challenges aren't limited to rural areas.
"You're seeing it all over, and we're starting to see it enough that we've got to be proactive in Iowa and attack the areas where we know we can change it for the better," he said.