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Legislative committee hears update regarding EMS services

WV Press Staff Report

WHEELING, W.Va. – The state Legislature’s Joint Committee on Volunteer Fire Departments and Emergency Medical Services, on Tuesday, heard an update from Office of Emergency Medical Services (OEMS) Director Jody Ratliff on the required number of ambulances and staff needed to facilitate EMS services, and a Fire and EMS budget overview from House Financial Analyst Ian Smith. 

“From Oct. 2022 until Oct. 2023, on 911 responses, we had 228,484,” Ratliff began. “That’s not how many times we were requested, that’s just how many we transported.”

Ratliff added that there were 44,820 patient transports between facilities, and 147,614 general medical transportations. These were in addition to the 911 response-transportations, bringing the total number of ambulatory transports for the 12-month-period to 420,918.

“We get a response every 48 seconds,” Ratliff said. “There’s a 911 response every two-minutes and 18-seconds.”

According to Ratliff, the state and each county utilizes a system known as “System Fast Management.” Ratliff explained that the system is designed to “do the most good with the least amount of trucks (ambulances).” Ratliff further stated that, with an ambulatory response time of 8.61 minutes, Ohio County is the fastest responder in the state. At 11.84 minutes, Hancock County is third, and Kanawha County is fifth with an ambulatory response time of 16.32 minutes. Pendleton County, with a response time of 55.33 minutes, is the worst in West Virginia.

“No matter how you look at it, there’s always going to be the five worst,” Ratliff said. “Somebody has to be 51 through 55 – it’s what’s acceptable and what’s not acceptable. Of the top five, three of the five have either levies or fees.”

Ratliff also noted that approximately 48% of the state’s 911 calls originate in a county that requires ambulatory transportation to a different county. Furthermore, according to Ratliff, the average ambulatory transport in West Virginia is 16 miles. 

At the conclusion of Ratliff’s presentation, Committee Chair Sen. Vince Deeds, R-Greenbrier, asked, “What possible, practical solution do you have?”

“If we can have counties provide at least a minimum amount of trucks, it keeps [every county’s] trucks in their county,” Ratliff replied. “When we do that, all of a sudden each county is able to support the 911 system.”

Next before the committee was House Financial Analyst Ian Smith, who began by saying, “The purpose of this presentation is to showcase what is appropriated for Fire and EMS through the state budget.”

“There’s a variety of things that come through the budget bill that subsidize both Fire and EMS Services,” Smith noted. “A significant amount of funding received by Fire and EMS comes through State Code.”

Smith explained that the funding mandated by State Code is separate from funding appropriated through any other funding source, and “is not explicitly found within the current budget bill.”

“Only by appropriating new funds into the accounts do we see them appear in the budget bill,” Smith said. “A good example are the Fire Protection Funds, and the Municipal Protection Funds – all of those we won’t actually see in the budget bill going forward because they are statutory code, automated by the funding process.”

According to Smith, Fire and EMS Services receive funding through numerous State Agencies and departments, including the Department of Homeland Security, and the Division of Emergency Management.

“Within West Virginia University’s budget bill, Jackson Mill has an appropriation of $510,382,” Smith further explained. “Of that, $250,000 goes to the West Virginia State Firefighters Training Academy. That’s a very good example of how we sort of fund through other items.”

At the conclusion of Smith’s presentation, Deeds, as he did with Ratliff, asked for clarification.

“Can you just put it in layman’s terms – this is roughly how much money goes to EMS each year?” Deeds asked.

“I don’t have those exact numbers on me,” Smith replied. “What I can tell you is that general revenue is what The State gives out of its money. Anything that’s special or federal comes from other sources. If you look at all of the general revenue accounts, it’s probably somewhere upwards of twenty-plus million.”

The Joint Committee on Volunteer Fire Departments and Emergency Medical Services will meet again during next month’s Interim Session, scheduled for Dec. 10 – 12.

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