What is an ambulance desert and why Nevada tops the list

Photo via Unsplash

By Aleza Freeman

August 23, 2023

Timely access to an ambulance may be a matter of life or death, but it’s not always guaranteed for residents in Nevada.

The Nevada Current recently reported that every county in Nevada is considered an ambulance desert, and the state has the country’s fewest ambulance stations per 1,000 square miles.

The data comes from a nationwide study of 41 US states published by the University of Southern Maine in May.

In the study, an ambulance desert is defined as a populated census area that’s geographic center is 25 minutes away from an ambulance service area.

But even when ambulance services exist within a closer range, it doesn’t ensure the service has enough staff or resources.

The Las Vegas Review-Journal notes that this is a growing problem in Clark County. In June, the county–which requires ambulances to arrive in under 12 minutes at least 90% of the time–approved a corrective plan to shift the coverage areas for some private ambulance companies to address staff shortages and issues of tardiness.

Nevada is one of eight states with fewer than three ambulances covering every 1,000 square miles of land area. The state has two ambulance stations per 100,000 residents, the lowest number of all states surveyed.

Nationwide, 4.5 million people live in an ambulance desert, 52% of which live in rural counties. Rural counties are more likely to have ambulance deserts than urban counties due to longer transport distances and delayed access to care.

According to the USM study, ambulance response times range from eight to 19 minutes in rural areas and four to 10 minutes in urban areas.

Longer EMS response times have the potential to influence trauma patient survival, and, in the case of accidents like car crashes, may lead to higher mortality rates.

  • Aleza Freeman

    Aleza Freeman is a Las Vegas native and award-winning journalist with two decades of experience writing and editing lifestyle, travel, entertainment, and human interest stories in Nevada. Her work has appeared in AARP magazine, Haute Living and Nevada Magazine.



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