This editorial originally appeared in the Grand Island Independent.

Seconds seem like hours when a medical emergency happens and people are waiting for an ambulance. The medical crews can never get there fast enough, it seems.

Unfortunately, that wait is getting longer in many areas of rural Nebraska. Ashton recently lost its local rescue squad, and the Sherman County community now relies on one from Loup City, which is an extra 10 minutes added on to the response time.

Ashton isn’t alone. Dean Cole, EMS and trauma program administrator for the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services, recently told the Grand Island Independent’s Lauren Sedam that communities across the state and country are facing reduced access to emergency medical services.

The reason is the same as many of the other problems facing rural areas: fewer people. With a smaller population, there aren’t as many volunteers as there used to be for the EMS crews. The scramble for manpower becomes too much for many communities.

EMS work is certainly not easy. Responding to emergencies, many involving friends and neighbors, can be extremely wearying emotionally. It takes a special person to be able to respond to emergency calls and not be traumatized himself.

In addition, EMS crew members must undergo extensive training and licensing. For beginners, it requires 120 hours of classes and continuing training. With busy lifestyles, jobs, families and other obligations, finding volunteers who are able to put in that much time is difficult.

There are, however, no easy solutions to the problem. Rural areas have seen a population decline due to farms getting bigger and most jobs being located in larger communities. That trend just continues.

Losing EMS crews hurts rural areas even more. Medical care and help during emergencies are important quality-of-life matters. Many people, especially those with health concerns, will be wary of living in an area without nearby ambulance and paramedic service.

Reversing the trend of dwindling EMS crews will take a cooperative effort. The state, counties, towns, businesses and medical facilities all need to work together to address the problem. Perhaps incentives and funding could be provided to volunteers seeking the training. Businesses would have to allow their employees serving as EMS volunteers flexible work time so they can respond to emergencies.

It really is a statewide issue that impacts communities throughout the state. In an emergency, it’s nice to know that a caring, nearby EMS crew is coming to your assistance.

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