By Allison G. S. Knox, faculty member at American Military University
On April 11-12, the National Association of Emergency Medical Technicians (NAEMT) held their annual EMS on the Hill event in Washington, D.C. This event brought together emergency medical service practitioners from 37 states to advocate at the federal level. EMS on the Hill provides an opportunity for participants to speak with Members of Congress and their staff about important legislative initiatives that impact agencies. This year’s agenda included supporting several critical pieces of legislation aimed at improving EMS agencies around the country.
Protecting EMTs During Disaster Response
During a disaster, federal law does not currently provide Good Samaritan protection to healthcare professionals volunteering their medical services. This means that when EMTs and paramedics provide medical services during disasters, they could potentially be held liable for injury or wrongful death under federal or state laws.
To change this and provide incentives for medical professional to volunteer their services when the country needs it most, EMS on the Hill advocated in support of bills H.R. 1876/S. 781, known as the Good Samaritan Health Professionals Act of 2017. This particular bill would help provide consistency to Good Samaritan laws, as some states do not offer such protection. This bill would also work to promote coordination among state and federal agencies during a disaster including coordinating volunteers and verifying their medical licensure.
Supporting Rural EMS Agencies
Rural EMS agencies continue struggling to recruit and retain qualified professional medical staff. EMS on the Hill encouraged participants to support HR 5429: The Supporting and Improving Rural EMS Needs Act (SIREN Act). This bill would create a grant program for agencies in rural areas to support recruitment, retention, education, and equipment needs.
The SIREN Act would reauthorize the Rural Emergency Medical Service Training and Equipment Assistance Program of the Public Health Service Act, which requests $10 million in grants be distributed to rural agencies in 2018 through 2022.
Although the SIREN Act will not completely end the recruitment and retention problems that EMS agencies are seeing throughout the country, it is certainly a step in the right direction.
According to NAEMT, many of the nation’s veterans receive unnecessary medical bills when the Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) denies their claim for ambulance transport to the closest medical facility. H.R. 1445, the Veterans Reimbursement for Emergency Ambulance Services Act (VREASA) would allow for the VA to “approve emergency ambulance services for reimbursement” in certain circumstances.
Furthering the Discussion
Those who attended EMS on the Hill were encouraged to talk about these issues and more with Members of Congress so they understood the impact on the daily operation of EMS agencies and their ability to deliver vital medical care to people around the country.
Participants of EMS on the Hill were also encouraged to ask their representatives to join the EMS Caucus. The EMS Caucus allows for further discussion about important EMS-related issues at the federal level and is an important initiative that needs to be revisited after each congressional election.
About the Author: Allison G. S. Knox is a faculty member at American Military University, teaching courses in Emergency and Disaster Management. Her research interests are comprised of emergency management and emergency medical services policy issues. Prior to teaching, Allison worked in a level one trauma center emergency department and for a Member of Congress in Washington, D.C. She holds four Master of Arts degrees in emergency management, international relations, national security studies and history. She is a certified lifeguard, MET and is also trained in Technical Large Animal Emergency Rescue. Allison currently serves as Advocacy Coordinator of Virginia for NAEMT, Chapter Sponsor for the West Virginia Iota Chapter of Pi Gamma Mu International Honor Society, and Faculty Advisor for the Political Science Scholars. She is also on the Board of Trustees and serves as Chancellor of the Southeast Region for Pi Gamma Mu International Honor Society in the Social Sciences. She can be reached at IPSauthor@apus.edu.