Reader urges support for paramedics during pandemic

Published 9:44 pm Saturday, April 4, 2020

To the Editor:
Across the country, in large urban areas as well as small rural communities, EMTs and paramedics are serving on the frontlines of our nation’s war against the COVID-19 pandemic, oftentimes without the necessary supplies and equipment to ensure the safety of their patients and themselves. Emergency medical services (EMS) are responding to increasing calls from patients with suspected or positively diagnosed coronavirus, in addition to 911 calls for patients with severe injuries and illness, including cardiac arrests and strokes. All EMS systems, whether they are public, private or a combination of both, are struggling. The additional burdens placed upon our EMS systems and personnel are challenging even for the strongest systems.
Lack of medical supplies, particularly Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), including face masks, gloves, goggles and gowns; ventilators, and other essential medical supplies and medications, is endangering our EMTs and paramedics, their families and colleagues, and their patients. EMS personnel are having to utilize improvised or recycled PPE. A growing number of EMTs and paramedics are being infected with the COVID-19 virus, removing their ability to answer 911 calls. Some are fighting for their lives on respirators. According to an online tracking system developed by the International Association of Fire Chiefs, as of March 26, there have been 6,229 EMS and fire personnel exposed to the coronavirus, 1,835 have been quarantined and 113 have become infected with the illness. While some states have implemented priority testing for their EMS personnel, many have yet to enact this testing. The U.S. Public Health Service has given EMS personnel testing its lowest priority.
We appreciate the efforts of Congress and the administration to support states as they respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, and thank them for passing crucial relief and stimulus bills in the last couple of weeks. However, these legislative packages do not provide direct funding relief or protection to our nation’s EMTs and paramedics. Funds to support the pandemic response are being provided to state government and/or hospitals, which do not trickle down to EMS. EMS agencies receive little to no funding from programs such as the FEMA Disaster Relief Fund and the Assistance to Firefighter Grants. EMS agencies are not receiving funds or supplies for their EMS personnel. In some communities, EMS is on the brink of collapse.
For EMS to sustain its services and protect its personnel, the following actions need to be taken immediately by federal leaders:
• Give priority to testing for EMS personnel and their families.
• Give priority access to PPE for EMS personnel.
• Give priority access to EMS agencies for vital prehospital medications.
• Reimburse all EMS agencies for overtime wages paid to employees and additional costs necessary to provide emergency medical services during the public health pandemic.
• Reimburse EMTs and paramedics for the cost of daycare for EMS personnel with children.
• Provide direct funding to all EMS agencies for ventilators and other needed medical equipment.
• Provide direct funding to EMS to purchase ambulances.
• Allow use of the A0998 HCPCS code for EMS to respond and transport patients to the appropriate healthcare facility, not necessarily the hospital, freeing up hospital beds.
• Ensure all EMS personnel are covered in all applicable COVID-19 provisions by specifically including Emergency Medical Services Providers and personnel.
Jessica Goad
Marion, VA

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