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EMS change certainly isn’t an emergency

Ohio is a very diverse state in terms of how emergency medical services are provided from community to community.

In some cases, emergency calls are fielded at the township or municipal level, while others rely on the county for these services. But no matter who responds in an emergency situation, Ohioans want and need help as soon as humanly possible.

However, the State Board of Emergency Medical Services (EMS) recently approved a rule that could significantly impact the ability of emergency medical crews in rural areas to recruit and retain personnel and respond to emergency situations in an efficient manner.

A few years ago, I fought against a policy proposed by the state EMS board that would have required two emergency medical technicians (EMT) to be present before an ambulance could respond to a call for help.

This would have caused problems for many of our local EMS departments, which said that emergency response time would be lengthened significantly if the state board’s rule when into effect.

The Legislature was able to enact a law that said only one first responder had to be an EMT.

Well, as Yogi Berra once famously said, “It’s déj vu all over again.” The state EMS board voted on February 25 to mandate that all paramedic training programs in Ohio become nationally accredited by 2018.

Also, the test recognized by the EMS board for EMT certification in Ohio will be administered by the National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians.

This is an unnecessary, time-consuming and costly unfunded mandate, which will raise costs for local EMS training programs and could significantly hamper efforts to recruit and retain emergency medical workers in the 17th Senate District and other rural parts of the state.

According to an article in the Columbus Dispatch, the accreditation process can take six months to a year and cost about $2,000 per program, per year. There would also be additional costs for new training equipment and bachelor’s degrees for some paramedic training program coordinators, which are not required now.

Currently, many EMS districts pay to train paramedics to serve their region of the state, but this policy may change if these agencies are required to spend thousands of dollars to upgrade their training resources to meet national accreditation standards.

In particular, many of the EMS departments in rural Ohio, which are working with limited resources, may have to pass these additional costs on to their students, severely impacting our region’s ability to recruit and retain emergency medical personnel.

It is fine if an individual person or department chooses to become nationally certified, but it should not be a requirement for all EMTs who want to work in Ohio.

Many states do not require their emergency medical workers to meet national accreditation standards, and I see no problem with Ohio’s current EMT certification process.

It is challenging enough for counties, cities and townships to provide local safety services without adding unnecessary hurdles to jump over.

A good comparison is the national board certification process for teachers.

Some educators in Ohio choose to work to become certified by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, but those who don’t are still qualified to teach in Ohio, and do so successfully.

While the state encourages teachers to pursue national board certification, it is not a mandate on educators or school districts.

I am currently working with the EMS community and other interested parties to draft legislation that would prohibit the state EMS board from making a rule requiring national accreditation for EMTs in Ohio.

At a time when many local communities are struggling with tight resources and are already having a difficult time recruiting EMS volunteers, the state should not implement rules that will make it even harder to attract and train these professionals.

Most importantly, this policy could impact the ability of many townships, municipalities and counties to provide timely emergency services for Ohioans in need.

John A. Carey is a member of the Ohio Senate and represents the 17th District. He can be reached at Ohio Senate, Statehouse, Columbus, Ohio 43215 or by phone at (614) 466-8156.