Stevi responds to drop in ambulance service 

The town of Stevensville lies midway between Hamilton and Missoula. Or, to put it another way, halfway between Marcus Daly Memorial Hospital to the south and St. Patrick Hospital and Community Medical Center to the north.

The town’s geographical situation might be one factor in the citizens’ decision to take their collective emergency medical needs into their own hands.

Several months ago the Bitterroot Valley’s ambulance service was transferred from Daly Hospital, which was losing money on that service, to a private business, Bitterroot Valley EMS.

In an effort to save money, Daly Hospital reduced its ambulance coverage in Stevensville from 24 hours a day to 16 hours a day. When the service was sold, coverage declined even more in Stevensville, says Bill Perrin, a Stevensville resident involved in an emergency services task force.

“When it was sold, [Bitterroot Valley EMS] tried to staff it with volunteers, but there weren’t enough people,” says Perrin. “When they took it over, we as a community knew we weren’t getting the coverage we should have.”

In the absence of 24-hour ambulance service, Stevensville residents sometimes found themselves relying on ambulances coming from as far away as Victor and Hamilton, distant enough to have an impact on the survivability of heart attack victims.

That situation prompted residents, firefighters and other interested folks to form an emergency medical services task force under the auspices of the Main Street Association, whose goals were originally the revitalization of downtown and promotion of public education.

Using American Heart Association guidelines, the task force came up with a model for its emergency medical services, an ambitious plan that proposes a citizen corps trained in cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). Firefighters would be taught how to use automatic external defibrillators, or AEDs, two of which are already in place at two Stevensville-area fire halls. Community Medical Center has donated money for two more, which will be placed in the area’s two other fire stations, and the task force expects to buy more AEDs for placement in public buildings.

The task force has other goals, including expanding the ranks of firefighters trained to provide emergency medicine. In January, the task force will sponsor a three-month basic emergency medical training course for anyone interested.

Although it was the change in ambulance service that precipitated the task force, Perrin insists that the decision to set community standards for emergency medical care is not, strictly speaking, an ambulance issue. “It just forced us to take a look at the bigger picture,” he says.

When all the pieces of the community medicine puzzle are in place, “we don’t know how it’s going to look,” he says, but it will include firefighters, trained medical personnel who live in the community, the ambulance service, and anyone interested. “They’re all a part of it.

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