AMU Fire & EMS Original Public Safety

How Health Disparities Affect Emergency Medical Services

By Allison G. S. Knox
Edge Contributor

In the public health discipline, there is a lot of discussion about health disparities and their effect on communities. Healthcare disparities often result in terrible consequences for individuals suffering from serious conditions such as heart disease, cancer or diabetes. For instance, if people with a serious condition need immediate, life-saving treatment, they may not be able to be quickly transported to a hospital if there is an ambulance shortage in the area.

With the limited budgets that many communities have, their EMS providers may not be able to offer adequate health care to local citizens. In fact, some communities receive better medical service than others.

Rural EMS agencies, for example, may not have enough ambulances to transport people to hospitals. In addition, EMS agencies throughout the country are suffering from workplace shortages and do not have sufficient personnel to adequately manage their 911 calls.

EMS Agencies Have Had Staffing Problems for Decades, Especially in Rural Communities

Bloomberg Law notes that EMS agencies throughout the United States have had problems such as staffing shortages for decades. Many agencies run their agencies with volunteers, who often lack the same in-depth training as professional employees.

Using volunteers also means that some agencies may not have enough people to staff ambulances 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Both NBC News and the New York Times have highlighted serious issues in rural community healthcare, arguing that the serious workplace shortages in rural areas make prehospital care a financial problem for local agencies and governments.

Related link: EMS Worker Shortages, COVID-19 and Community Resilience

Training Can Overcome Some Healthcare Disparities

Training is always an important component to alleviating healthcare disparities. For instance, by better training their volunteers, EMS agencies can improve pre-hospital treatment for local residents. Similarly, more educational opportunities could be provided to volunteers, who may not have great training based on where they are in the country and where they are choosing to work.

Related link: Improving Emergency Medical Services in Rural Communities

Lawmakers Can Also Help to Resolve Healthcare Disparities

Overall, health disparities are an issue that plagues American society. Lawmakers should consider how EMS agencies play an important part in helping communities to remain healthy and provide better funding for urgently needed training and equipment. Ultimately, people should receive adequate prehospital care regardless of where they live in the United States.

Allison G.S. Knox

Allison G. S. Knox teaches in the fire science and emergency management departments at American Military University and American Public University. Focusing on emergency management and emergency medical services policy, she often writes and advocates about these issues. Allison works as an Intermittent Emergency Management Specialist in the Administration for Strategic Preparedness and Response. She also serves as the At-Large Director of the National Association of Emergency Medical Technicians, Chancellor of the Southeast Region on the Board of Trustees with Pi Gamma Mu International Honor Society in Social Sciences and chair of Pi Gamma Mu’s Leadership Development Program. Prior to teaching, Allison worked for a member of Congress in Washington, D.C. and in a Level One trauma center emergency department. She is an emergency medical technician and holds five master’s degrees.

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