MONONGAH, W.Va. (AP) — The COVID-19 pandemic has pushed many medical systems to the brink, but one of the most short-staffed positions in this chain of care are emergency medical technicians.
West Virginia Public Service Training is a state program that trains over 45,000 first responders every year in West Virginia. Trainers travel all around the state to different counties to run affordable classes that help residents earn certifications in specific fields.
Recently, Monongah Volunteer Fire Department was filled with around 12 prospective EMTs, ready to take part in the state’s 155-hour program to put participants on track to get certified.
“We offer classes like this year-round for firefighters, EMS providers... we do all that kind of stuff,” said Brian Potter, an instructor with Public Service Training. “We do various classes on hazardous materials, first aid, CPR, we do all that.”
The EMT courses are some of the most rigorous in the repertoire, requiring a commitment of around 155 hours of class instruction, though the hours can vary depending on how ride-alongs go, according to Potter. On a ride-along, students get to apply their training and observe professionals do their jobs. Once a participant finishes the classes, they’re able to take the national registry exam for EMT and can become a nationally-registered EMT, then they can apply for the state certification.
All that’s required of the participants is a $300 tuition payment, and showing up to and passing the weekly classes.
“This is a job that’s always in need,” course instructor Randy Corbin said. “A lot of (EMTs) move on to become paramedics, doctors and nurses and move on somewhere else in the medical field and COVID has hurt our numbers.”
All over the country, the pandemic has shown a need for medical providers, but that need is even more apparent in rural communities. Just in Marion County, it can take up to 30 minutes to get to a hospital from the rural corners of the county.
According to a study done by the National Institutes of Health, easy access to trauma care is directly affected by the density of the population and said, “Overall, rurality was associated with significantly lower access to trauma care.”
In the study, it was found that 57% of rural residents do not have access to critical trauma care by driving or flying within 60 minutes.
“While the majority of the United States has access to trauma care within an hour, almost 30 million U.S. residents do not,” states the study.
One benefit of offering these courses to rural communities, like Monongah, allows for quick care to people in emergency situations in these areas that are far-removed from an emergency room.
“We need to get these patients that are really sick to a hospital as quickly and safely as possible,” Corbin said. “To do that, we need EMTs that can assess, diagnose and start treatment prior to getting to the hospital.”
But it’s not just EMTs that are needed, every emergency service, especially volunteer services, are in need of residents willing to step up.
“Every community needs people to volunteer in emergency services, I don’t think anyone is exempt from that in 2021,” Potter said. “In emergency situations, it is very vital that you get someone on scene because that care might be lifesaving.”