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Arkansas EMS providers urging for more federal funds as pandemic continues

"For the first time, we are the rescuers asking for rescue," Ken Kelley, with the Arkansas Ambulance Association, said.

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Another industry continuing to struggle with staffing is ambulance services. 

Members of the Arkansas Ambulance Association met with Governor Asa Hutchinson on Tuesday, Jan. 11, to discuss current issues they're facing. 

The American Rescue Plan has helped distribute money to several different avenues during this pandemic throughout Arkansas and ambulance companies just want some more of that share. 

Ken Kelley, with the Arkansas Ambulance Association, said this money could not only help with short-term problems, but also long-term ones.

"For the first time, we are the rescuers asking for rescue," he said.

After 22 months of staffing struggles, long wait times at hospital ER's and driving across the state to get people care, Kelley said EMS providers are asking for relief. 

"It is really a nationwide problem, but it's starting to really come home to Arkansas, a lot due to the fact that we have a pipeline problem with workforce," he said.

It's an issue that Kelley said has been around long before COVID. 

The pandemic only making it worse with just 42% of all active licensed professionals in the state working.

"We're already suppressed just from a daily staffing standpoint, so just taking one or two people out of a small service can be very impactful," he said.

This is why Kelley and others met with Gov. Asa Hutchinson on Tuesday to discuss their $90 million proposal to receive funds from the American Rescue Plan. 

Federal money that, Kelley said, EMS has received less than 1% of.

"Many communities have already stepped up and done locally all that they can do, through subsidies and through tax incentives or tax-based funding in their local communities, and they're tapped out," he said.

The two-phased proposal would not only help with the current COVID crisis, according to Kelley, but aims to also repair the long-standing workforce shortage.

"I think with some help we would be able to shore up our EMS system and keep it where it is today, which by the way, it is a strong system, but it is fragile and we've actually got to shore it up and address it," he said.

The fragile system that is vital to our community's safety.

"Every county in the state is touched by EMS, every community has an active EMS system, and to see that leg of the three-legged stool of public safety go away would just be detrimental to the health and safety of the citizens of Arkansas and we don't want to see that happen," Kelley said.

Kelley said they are hopeful they could get some relief soon, but he's unsure when the governor could approve their proposal.