As Copper Valley Gets Ready To Join The "Ambulance Desert" – A Look At What To Expect

COPPER RIVER COUNTRY JOURNAL    "Ambulance Deserts" Exist In Rural Communities Around America   Down South, A 30-Minute Wait For A...


 "Ambulance Deserts" Exist In Rural Communities Around America  

Down South, A 30-Minute Wait For An Ambulance Is Not Considered Acceptable 
For Us, At This Time, 30 Minutes Is Pretty Good.

But What About When We'll Have To Drive Ourselves Over The Glenn Highway For Help In Three Weeks? 

JUNE 8TH, 2024
In only a few more weeks, barring a miracle, the Copper Valley will be without major ambulance service. It'll be the first time in decades. 

Delta Medical Transport, which has served the valley with several ambulances over a number of years, is leaving its contract with Cross Road Medical Center at the end of June. In the past, volunteers offered comprehensive ambulance service to the region.

The Copper Valley's current medical problems are compounded by the lack of doctors in the region, and by a lack of round-the-clock medical care at a facility. 

After hours – even when there is an ambulance – there's nowhere for that ambulance to take a crash victim, a sick child, or someone who has had a heart attack or is suffering from appendicitis. 

This makes buying into Medevac insurance very important. Air evacuation is prohibitively expensive if paid out of pocket. There are cheap subscription plans to two agencies, LifeMed and Guardian. In extreme emergencies, these may be the only way you'll be able to survive. 

Copper River EMS says it's exploring funding to replace Delta Medical, but there has been no public word on where CREMS is headed and how feasible that might be. CREMS has asked for monetary donations from individual members of the public to help provide the half million dollars that is required for a year of service. 

The current population of the valley is probably fewer than 3,000 people. The exact number is unknown. 

Ambulances Are Vital For Survival 

In other parts of America, especially poorer Southern rural communities, there are increasing numbers of news stories and interviews in which local people discuss their attempts to get help in what are known as "ambulance deserts" -- places where there are no ambulances. (There are links to some of those stories below.) 

Not having an ambulance, and living in a medical "desert," is bad for your health. 

What Is An Ambulance Desert?

It's a place where there are no ambulances. It's often in a poor and rural place. It's often where the infrastructure and governing system is not strong enough to support proper medical care. And where there aren't that many people. There are places like this all over rural America. And we, in the Copper Valley, are now entering the world of ambulance deserts. 

Why should we care? Because people are more likely to needlessly die in an ambulance desert. And, ultimately, those "people" are us.

Western and Southern contiguous states are the main places in the danger zone, but so, of course, is Alaska. 

The word "ambulance desert" is a metaphor. It means a place, like the desert, that is so extreme, isolated, and unusual that basic services common in other parts of America are lacking. 

More Than 25 Minutes 

Incredibly, an ambulance desert is defined as being more than 25 minutes from the nearest hospital by ambulance. The Copper Valley is at least 141 minutes from Mat-Su Regional (if you start in Glennallen in your car immediately upon having your medical emergency and drive straight down the Glenn Highway, through the mountains, to Palmer.)

 In actual fact, of course, it's longer than 141 minutes. 

Most people in the Copper Valley do not live in Glennallen. And the purpose of an ambulance is to whisk you away from a scene immediately, with drivers, medical personnel and special attention. 

In an ambulance desert, you'll get to a doctor by driving yourself in your car, or being taken by a concerned and generous neighbor or family member who's willing to haul you to the hospital in their car through the mountains. 

The Alaska State Troopers and Village Public Safety Officers (VPSOs) have informed the Country Journal that they will not be stepping in to serve as EMTs:

There is also the issue – most of the year – of extreme cold, slippery roads, and finding a vehicle in running condition that has snow tires and is properly preheated. Winter driving is invariably slower. 

Northern Desert 

Alaska has all the characteristics that that word "desert" implies – except for the extreme heat.

We literally live in a radically cold "desert". Yet, in many ways it's very much like the hot deserts of the southern United States. 

In the Copper Valley, we see many aspects of this "desert" life that contributes to "ambulance deserts"… long roads, meager resources, scattered towns, extreme temperatures, great beauty, lack of fertile ground for growing food, poverty... and a hard time finding medical care. 

What can we expect when the Copper Valley officially becomes a 20,000-square mile ambulance desert, crisscrossed by two of Alaska's primary highways?

Here are some news stories about ambulance deserts in other parts of America. Press the text below to go directly to the stories.





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