The Hutchinson News, Kan.
Reno County EMS will receive a nearly $200,000 federal grant to help recruit new emergency responders for the county’s rural areas and train current providers on how best to respond to the twin crisis of substance misuse and mental health emergencies.
“There is a tremendous need, both for retaining and attracting new EMS providers,” said Dave Johnston, Chief of Reno County EMS. “Unfortunately, COVID hit us hard. Folks moved out of the profession.”
One way to both attract and retain responders, he said, is to provide continuing education.
The plan is to use a small portion of the grant to provide scholarships for introductory EMT courses at Hutchinson Community College.
“Our hope is to add 10 providers in our community,” Johnston said, noting each scholarship will cover $1,500 in coursework. “That way, they can ease their way into it. It takes away some of the roadblocks that might exist financially to get into an EMS course and find an opportunity to serve in the community.”
They’ll use the remainder of the grant to set up both in-person and online continuing education training for responders.
“The grant will be used to provide comprehensive education on behavioral health emergencies and address the substance abuse crisis impacting our rural community,” Johnston said. “Besides Reno County EMS, we’ll also offer it out to Haven EMS and Pretty Prairie EMS.”
Drug overdoses have increased steadily over the past decade, with more than half of those from opioids. In the past 12 months, there have been 268 drug overdoses and 18 deaths in Reno County alone.
“It’s really dramatically increased, especially the opioid use and abuse,” said Johnston, who has been involved in emergency medical services for 29 years. “It’s been a problem nationally for several years, but now it migrated into rural Kansas. We just want to make sure people are aware of it, to train them up on Narcan administration, and how to direct folks to appropriate resources for treatment if they want it.”
Additionally, mental health crises have increased substantially, especially throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
Last year more than 40 percent of U.S. adults experienced symptoms of anxiety or depressive disorder, according to a study published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“It’s been a long-standing issue in some communities, but we want to find the right approach for that, one that helps folks get to the emergency room right or find other resources in the community to direct people to that are having a crisis.”
“We’re going to partner with Horizons (Mental Health Center) on mental health and behavioral emergencies,” he said.
Another goal is to help first responders recognize and address their own mental health stressors, Johnston said.
“An increasing number of our providers are finding themselves in crisis,” Johnson said. “We’re going to be proactive with that, to teach our folks how to be aware of stressors and how they can be proactive in addressing them, and if needed, direct them how to find help.”
The agency will receive the grant in October. They hope to quickly roll out some classes and then schedule others over the ensuing year, including some public safety training and CPR.
“It’s a one-year grant,” Johnston said. “We’ll be applying for it again and hope we can continue the work. We’re excited for this first year, to get it kicked and provide some training to our staff.”
In total, the agency, which operates under the auspices of Hutchinson Regional Medical Services, will receive $188,596. Funded through the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, it requires no match.
Reno County EMS was one of 32 agencies to receive the Rural Emergency Medical Services Training Grant and the only one in Kansas.
Sens. Jerry Moran and Roger Marshall jointly announced the grant award, which the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 funded.
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