Packed In: North Idaho’s population boom puts strain on emergency medical services

COEUR D’ALENE, Idaho — More people are calling 911 in North Idaho, so people are waiting longer for help and agencies are struggling to keep up. 

“Right now, we’re being pushed to our limits, we need to increase services. We need more,” said Bill Keeley, Chief Officer for the Kootenai County Emergency Medical Services System. 

EMS agencies across Idaho are now sounding the alarm on a growing crisis. A recent statewide report shows only 18 percent of departments have enough staff. 

The population boom in North Idaho is making the issue worse. While Kootenai County’s seeing thousands of more calls pour in, resources are scarce.

“Both with COVID and with the increase in individuals who are moving here, this is unprecedented,” Keeley said. “Our length of time, at times, to get there has increased because when we’re very busy, units have to come from further away than they normally would.” 

When people need help, Jeff Piephoff is one of the first to answer. He said it’s like running nonstop all day. 

“Being on an ambulance like this, that’s running that many calls, we are constantly gone,” Piephoff said. “We’re gone, we leave at 8:00 in the morning and sometimes not back ‘til 8:00 at night.” 

Keeley says EMS needs to be a priority for the state in order to see things change. 

The services are not considered essential government services, so it’s harder for them to find funding even when the need is growing. 

“The influx of new people certainly puts a strain on the system,” Keeley said. 

That is why he hopes the state will standardize how EMS is done. That way, they can keep responding to calls with the highest quality of care. 

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