Issues with EMS must get a higher priority
The Emergency Medical Services concerns we’ve been hearing about are not unique to the Mahoning Valley. It’s a state and national problem.
Staffing issues complicated by COVID-19 stressors, high turnover rates and low wages are just a few contributing factors. Some emergency medical technicians wages are comparable to those of a fast-food worker. Add the low reimbursement rates that make it difficult for private EMS companies to stay in business, let alone expand their coverage areas.
During a recent meeting of the Ohio EMS Chiefs Association, board members told News Channel 5 in Cleveland the EMS industry is on the verge of collapse due to staffing and supply shortages plus funding issues. They also pointed out Ohio is one of 39 states that does not consider EMS as an essential service, whereas all 50 states consider police and fire essential services, giving them access to additional funds.
Earlier this year, New York Sen. Shelley Mayer and Assemblyman Steve Otis introduced legislation (A. 9509) to deem EMS services as essential and expand benefits for EMS programs around the state to address chronic EMT shortages. In October 2021, American Ambulance Association wrote a letter to Congress on the EMS workforce shortage, seeking funding from Health Resources and Services Administration to support paramedic and EMT training, recruitment and advancement.
Throughout my career in trauma program management and trauma system development in Youngstown and Akron, I have worked with many dedicated pre-hospital providers. They are an essential link in the chain of optimal patient outcomes.
Akron, like many major cities, uses a firefighter / medic staffing model. The Akron Fire Department responds to EMS calls and transports emergent patients to the hospital. They utilize AMR for less urgent transports. They also have a system to contact medical control and request a “Code 1” for minor injuries and illnesses. Based on EMS’ assessment, these patients do not require transport to the hospital. This eliminates some of the over-triage of patients to the hospitals, allowing them to care for more severe patients.
As a society, we have come to expect a certain level of care, but I have learned nothing in life is free. Someone must pay for this. Insurance companies? Government? Taxpayers? Last year, Gov. Mike DeWine announced $70 million in grant funding available for first-responder recruitment, retention and resilience, as part of the American Rescue Plan Act funding, with applications due in June.
When we call 911 for our loved ones with cardiac symptoms or a severe injury, how long do we want to wait for an ambulance to arrive? EMS needs to be a priority.