IOWA — Many emergency medical services agencies across Iowa are facing shortages in staff, with rural areas seeing the most impact.

Leaders are looking to designate EMS an essential service in their communities. A state law enacted last year would allow counties to do so by holding a referendum. If residents vote to make EMS an essential service, it would allow counties to raise property taxes in order to help pay for the services.

Residents in Calhoun County will have a chance to vote on the matter in an upcoming referendum. Recently, the county’s Board of Supervisors changed its pay structure for EMS providers. Because of a lack of funding, the board approved a pay cut of 50% for EMTs covering the overnight shift.

Its current staff and EMS advocates say changes need to be made to keep workers in this demanding job.

“Unfortunately, you look at losing staff because they can go elsewhere for employment and feel more stable,” said Chrissy Cook, Calhoun County EMT.

Mark McCulloch, EMS Deputy Chief for West Des Moines, said “This is a 24/7 operation. They are required to maintain their certifications. And they miss nights weekends, holidays, their children’s birthdays, softball games. All of these things they are sacrificing so much to take care of their community members. That’s a huge ask.”

Only three counties in Iowa currently have their EMS agencies designated an essential service.