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Rural towns seek to save ambulance services

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Wellston is just one of dozens of rural Oklahoma towns that are fighting to keep their ambulance service alive. Wellston is just one of dozens of rural Oklahoma towns that are fighting to keep their ambulance service alive.
The black dots represents communities that have lost ambulances entirely, The black dots represents communities that have lost ambulances entirely,
By Jennifer Pierce, NEWS 9

WELLSTON, Okla. -- State health officials said they have a public health crisis on their hands.

Rural Oklahoma towns are losing ambulance services, putting residents at risk.

Like many rural Oklahoma towns Wellston has one main street and one way to help those in a medical emergency.

Emergency Medical Technician Debbie Stewart wants to be there for all her neighbors.

"To look up and see someone you know, because it is a scary situation for me, to know it would be more comforting that's one reason I went into the field," Stewart said.

The sound of the ambulance siren is becoming more distant because of Medicare cuts, high gas prices and a falling tax base.

"We run around $140,000 a year to keep the ambulance going and we're barely bringing in $100,000," Stewart said.

State health officials are calling it a public health crisis.

Fewer ambulance services means a longer wait time, valuable time rural Oklahomans don't have.

"They don't have that kind of time...it's a terrible situation," Shawn Rogers with the Oklahoma State Department of Health said.

The state emergency medical services director does have good news, however. He said lawmakers have set aside $2.5 million from the tobacco tax to aid emergency services.

"It's a start, it is a very important start; it's the first new development money for EMS since the 1970s," Rogers said.

Wellston EMTs hope the state's band-aid is enough to save their town.

"I don't want to become like those other communities because we do deserve and need an ambulance," Stewart said.

Since 2000 more than 40 rural ambulance services have stopped operations.

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