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Statler: State’s EMS agencies need help

MORGANTOWN — Joe Statler, R-Monongalia,  chairs the West Virginia House of Delegates Committee on Fire Departments and Emergency Medical Services.

He believes it’s time to sound the alarm on a looming statewide emergency regarding EMS services.

Low wages, high stress and the burnout of two years of COVID-19 has been more than many agencies could withstand. Those that remain find themselves operating underfunded and understaffed.

“Our EMS services across the state of West Virginia, I can tell you, it’s an epidemic stage for a lot of reasons,” Statler explained, noting there are currently no EMS services in 23 of the state’s 55 counties.

Statler said he’s hoping to steer at least some of the influx of federal dollars coming to the state toward EMS agencies. He also pointed out that a small percentage of insurance payments provides an annual allocation to the state’s volunteer fire departments, but not EMS agencies.

“So basically, each county has to do what they can do to keep those services alive,” Statler said. “They’ve relied on volunteer services, just like the volunteer fire departments, forever, but there was no money to help keep them alive.”

And Monongalia County isn’t immune to the problems.

Mon EMS — formed in a merger of Mon Health Medical Center and WVU Hospitals — relies on millions from the hospital systems to keep vehicles on the road.

“It’s $11.4 million to run it. [Mon EMS] brings in $6.8 million,” Monongalia County Commissioner Tom Bloom said, noting there are also growing staffing concerns.

The commission recently sat with Mon EMS Executive Director Forest Weyen.

“Mon EMS is still in a good place, but it is getting tighter every day,” Weyen told The Dominion Post when asked about staffing. “We are not unique. If you look at any of the major EMS outlets (JEMS, EMS World, EMS1, etc.) you can see that staffing has been an issue for years.”

Bloom and Commission President Sean Sikora said they believe pay is part of the issue. Sikora also referenced COVID and a November attack in which an emergency medical technician was stabbed by a patient being transported to the hospital.

“It’s like other frontline workers. There’s burnout. We’re going on two years of this pandemic and people are deciding ‘I’m not doing this anymore. I’ll go work at Sheetz and make nearly as much without someone stabbing me,’ ”  Sikora said.

The commission is currently in negotiations with the Mon EMS board regarding possible solutions involving the county. Sikora said the issue will be addressed early in 2022.

Statler said he hopes the state won’t be far behind.

“I don’t know what the answer is going to be in this, but I do know one thing, we have got to find that answer,” Statler said.

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