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Saint Alphonsus Ski and Trauma Conference to Train Rural First Responders
Monday, October 23, 2023



Most Idahoans are unaware that access to life-saving Emergency Medical Services (EMS) in Idaho is in jeopardy.  While some communities have well-funded and resourced systems of pre-hospital care, most of Idaho’s rural counties face challenges providing emergency care for residents, visitors, and recreationists.

A 2021 report from the Idaho Office of Performance Evaluations highlighted the funding and staffing challenges many rural EMS services face.  The report found 7 out of 10 emergency medical first responders are volunteers.  It concluded that due to staffing and funding issues, patients in rural Idaho face longer response times and receive a lower standard of care.

Additionally, the state of Idaho does not identify emergency medical care as an essential service, and therefore no tax funds are directed to supporting critical needs of the system such as advanced training for EMS volunteers.  This shifts the responsibility to small community agencies or their individual members to seek grants and other funding sources to pay for advancing their skills and knowledge.

As the region’s leading trauma center, Saint Alphonsus is dedicated to supporting these agencies, whether they are staffed by volunteers or paid professionals. Why? Because first responders are the first line of rescue and therefore a critical piece of any trauma program. Our trauma surgeons, physicians, and other health providers who render care for injured patients in the hospital can’t do their jobs without the initial work of the EMTs, paramedics, public safety officers, firefighters, ski patrols and others who must make critical decisions in the field, to stabilize and transport patients in a timely manner to our trauma center.

Yet, the training and knowledge first responders need to make on-the-spot decisions and provide the appropriate care is often out of reach for small and rural agencies.  That is why Saint Alphonsus holds its annual Ski and Mountain Trauma Conference.  This three-day event, centrally located in Sun Valley Nov. 1-3, allows these first responders access to lectures, instruction, and hands-on simulations with leading trauma experts from around the country.

Through the generous donation of time and money from the conference’s growing number of supporters, reduced registration fees and scholarships make the training affordable. This means agencies that normally don’t have the budget for this high level of training can afford to send multiple team members to train and learn from one another.

One of the agencies benefitting from this conference is in Fremont County.  Located in the northeast part of our state, Fremont County is home to outstanding year-round recreational opportunities. The area sees thousands of visitors every year, and whether they’re traveling Highway 20 enroute to Yellowstone, riding snowmobiles in the Caribou-Targhee National Forest or ATVs on the St. Anthony Sand Dunes, hiking and camping in Harriman State Park, or trying to hook a big one on Henrys Lake some of these will inevitably require the assistance of Fremont County EMS.

This year, Bert Mecham, the Director of Fremont County EMS, is sending 15 of his paid and volunteer EMS staff – his largest contingent ever – to the conference for hands-on simulations and instruction.

Speaking about the value of the conference he says, “I am pretty picky on what training we will actually pay for. That’s one of the reasons why we pick the Ski and Mountain Trauma Conference because I think it’s the most applicable to what we deal with and what we see in rural Idaho.”

Fremont County EMS has been participating in the conference for at least eight years, and Mecham says his employees have been able to put their training to use in real-world applications, ranging from backcountry rescue to delivering babies.  “We get a wide variety of classes and can work on a wide range of skills on one weekend.”

Even those who don’t attend benefit from the seminars and simulations, as Meacham says those who get the training turn around and educate colleagues in the department’s monthly training meetings.

This year, conference attendees will learn about the latest techniques in lectures and hands-on simulations, covering everything from stabilizing a patient for transport, backcountry management of hypothermia and frostbite, trauma management, avalanche rescue, delivering babies in emergencies, and wilderness wound management.

While the conference name pays homage to our ski and mountain heroes, the education and skills taught also translate to victims of car accidents, industrial or farm accidents, and other emergencies our rural first responders deal with every day.

A special highlight for this year’s conference will be the keynote address of Dr. Tom Marshburn, former NASA astronaut and flight surgeon.  His experience – both in space and on Earth – will help motivate and inspire conference attendees to rededicate themselves to improving their skills, teamwork, and understanding of the vital role they play in saving lives. 

The Saint Alphonsus Health System is once again proud and honored to sponsor the Sun Valley Ski and Mountain Trauma Conference, providing critical support to first responders throughout our state and region. We hope this conference continues to strengthen the partnership between the region’s leading trauma center and the dedicated women and men who respond at all hours of the day and night to keep our communities and loved ones safe.

Parker Fillmore, MD is Trauma Medical Director at Saint Alphonsus Regional Medical Center in Boise



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