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EMS leaders campaign in Columbus for support as industry on verge of collapse

They say underfunding, staffing shortages to blame
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Posted at 4:45 PM, May 12, 2022

COLUMBUS, Ohio — EMS leaders from across Ohio gathered in Columbus Thursday to meet with lawmakers and advocate for more support as their industry continues to struggle for survival.

“We’re at critical stages right now when it comes to funding and staffing,” said Eric Burgess, Ohio EMS Chiefs Association President.

Burgess, who oversees Delaware County EMS, estimates local EMS budgets only amount to about one-fourth of the budgets of fire and police departments.

That exists, he says, because reimbursements from programs such as Medicaid often don’t cover the cost of responding to a 911 call, and those reimbursements only come through if someone is transported to a hospital; meaning if care is declined when an ambulance shows up, the ambulance company doesn’t get paid.

Additionally, all 50 states classify police and fire departments as essential services, which means they are required by the government, and as a result, those departments can gain access to additional funding.

However, when it comes to EMS, only 11 states classify EMS as an essential service, with Ohio as one of the 39 states that does not.

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States that classify EMS as an essential service include Oregon, Washington, Utah, Iowa, Pennsylvania, Indiana, Tennessee, North Carolina, Delaware, Connecticut, and West Virginia according to the National Association of State EMS Officials.

Back in March, News 5 reported extensively on the mountain of issues facing EMTs, including staffing, safety and supply shortages.

“We frequently talk about when you call an ambulance and there isn't one to send,” Vince Gildone at Northwest Ambulance in Geneva said at the time. “That's clearly something we need to think about and could happen.”

It’s an industry that nowadays pays about the same as some fast-food restaurants, and on top of people not liking the pay, Gildone said the earlier days of uncertainty surrounding COVID-19 scared away quite a few staffers.

To make matters worse, Gildone said supply chain issues have made it harder to repair or replace aging equipment.

“The state of the EMS industry is on the verge of collapse,” Eric Burns, vice president of Tri-Village Joint Ambulance District in Darke County, added during our original report. “If we don’t do something quickly, I think EMS as we know it is going to fall apart.”

Shortly after that story aired, “The EMS Staffing and Support Act” was introduced in the U.S. Senate by Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Senator Tina Smith of Minnesota. It’s a bill that, if it passes, would provide $500 million to local EMS through grants to help with hiring, providing training and buying new equipment.

Burke made up part of the eight teams that met with more than two dozen lawmakers in Columbus Thursday, looking to share their ideas that would help this 50-year-old industry continue, such as increased Medicaid reimbursements and essential service status.

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A table for the Ohio EMS Chiefs Association is set up in the state house Thursday.

“When you have a cause and a mission and things that are critical to your success - just take the initiative,” Burgess said Thursday. “We’re a relatively young service, and we're just now starting to get a foothold on getting some things accomplished so that we can continue to provide the services that we need to provide. These initiatives we’re setting up right now will really ensure the future of EMS and to make sure when our citizens call 911, qualified trained professionals are going to show up and take care of their emergency.”