Ambulance Services in Crisis

Boise City's emergency crew, like many other across the state, are facing a financial crisis. They assist rural communities across the state that do not have their own service. Providing this vital service, however, has become too costly.

"Our fees that we charge barely cover the trip, if they have insurance," said Lee Overbay, EMS  Director for Cimarron County. "If they don't, we just lose it."

This year, three ambulance services in Oklahoma were forced to close because tax dollars are shrinking and medicare reimbursements are running low.

State health officials say it costs twice as much today to run an ambulance service than it did 10 years ago.

"If you don't have enough runs to generate the revenue to support your ambulance, then you have to subsidize it with tax money and these communities don't have that either," said Shawn Rodgers, Oklahoma State Department of Health's emergency services director.

Cimarron County's EMS service runs with the help of volunteers, but sometimes that's not enough. With only two ambulance trucks at their disposal, people in Cimarron County also rely heavily on their neighboring counties and states for help during an emergency.

"We call for mutual aid from surrounding counties around here. We just don't have enough personnel to cover a major wreck or something like that," Overbay said.

There is hope, however. Oklahoma state legislators approved a $2.5 million revolving annual fund to boost these services in rural communities.

"It will help us shift our resources and reorganize things so that rural Oklahoma will get the best possible ambulance services," Rodgers said.

Legislators are currently working out the details of the annual fund. They hope to give out the first grant late 2009.