All Politics Is Local: Or an EMS Labor Union and the Kerfuffle

There’s been a lot of discussion on EMS social media about the contract between the City of Austin and the Austin/Travis County EMS Employees’ Association (AKA: The Union) lapsing. I’m not a medic for ATCEMS, but I feel compelled to wade in as an Austin resident, a paramedic, a public sector employee, a friend of many of the medics in the system, and as someone who was a first responder within the system. I’m going to give this my best effort and will probably not gain any friends as a result. But that’s ok – as the old joke goes – lawyers have feelings.  Allegedly.

This is a system that’s had issues for a while. And this isn’t solely a greedy public employees’ union issue.  Nor is it an issue of terrible management. The truth be told, it’s a horrendous combination of lousy union leadership and equally inept city leadership.  The union leadership has sold its membership one scheme after another as the “one big fix” to the challenges of working in EMS.  I remember several years ago when there was entirely different leadership at the union, EMS management, and even city management.  A paramedic ran for the union presidency on a promise of replacing the current (at that time) 56 hour work week of 24 hours on and 48 hours off with a guaranteed 48 hour work week – for the same pay.  Needless to say, neither EMS nor city management were enamored with the idea of cutting hours for the same pay.  Then the union president raised the issue of “safety.”  That’s an issue that, once raised, can’t be recalled. At that point, the city hired a consulting firm to examine EMS scheduling and the determination was made that many of the stations were too busy to be on 24 hour schedules.  To this date, scheduling and station assignments remain one of the biggest challenges at ATCEMS. A variety of schedules have been tried and active fatigue management policies are now in place.  While the fatigue management policies are welcome and needed (especially after the death of a respected ATCEMS captain who fell asleep while driving), the reality is that all of the scheduling fixes fail to address the underlying problem – a busy EMS system that does not have sufficient staffing or crews, especially in the areas of highest call volume in the center of the city.

The call volume in central Austin also impacts other parts of the system.  Many of the ambulances from the other parts of Austin have to transport to hospitals in central/downtown Austin.  Once those trucks become available as they leave the hospital, they are assigned calls in central/downtown Austin.  The crews call this “getting sucked into the vortex.” Meanwhile, the more outlying areas of the city are without their ambulance – all because no one recognizes the 800 pound gorilla in the room – the central part of Austin with its socioeconomic demographics, the entertainment district in downtown, and two homeless shelters less than two blocks from the entertainment district.  The solution was, is, and remains additional EMS resources in central/downtown Austin.  No other solution is a solution.

And let’s talk about the outlying areas some. Pretty much since the EMS system was created in Austin, Austin has supplied paramedic-level transport for all of Travis County.  Each of the fire departments in Travis County (including Austin FD) have provided first responder services under the protocols and medical direction of ATCEMS. In THEORY, ATCEMS protocols allow for the “credentialing” of these fire departments’ advanced/intermediate EMTs and paramedics to function at their state certification level. The reality is that the credentialing process is very similar (and probably rightfully so) to the field training process that ATCEMS medics go through to be “credentialed” for independent practice.  In actuality, the process exists largely on paper. The process is too long and involved for many departments to commit an employee for this extended period.  And it serves ATCEMS to limit the number of providers above the EMT level.  As a result of this process, its lack of transparency and clear standards, and the underlying motives in limiting the number of advanced providers, ATCEMS has alienated many of the fire departments in the county.  Pflugerville was alienated to the point of creating its own fire-based EMS system and completely separating from ATCEMS.  Two other departments have their own medical direction now for paramedic-level first response.  This failure reflects right back on both ATCEMS leadership and ATCEMS union leadership.  In fact, one union president told Pflugerville that his job was to protect his members. Granted, it’s probably the truth, but at least be politic enough to couch it in terms of patient safety, patient care, and patient outcomes.

If management deals in good faith with employees, there’s little hue and cry for a union, much less civil service protections. Witness the number of Japanese auto plants in the US where workers have actively rejected unionization attempts by the United Auto Workers.  ATCEMS has had a history of employee discontent and morale issues.  I know paramedics from the early 1990s who complained about being assigned to a mandatory overtime shift at the busiest station in the system (and one of the busiest in the US) right after working that same station for the previous 24 hours. As the morale problems continued and several provider suicides occurred, Austin’s previous medical director was replaced by a new medical director who came in from the outside.  One of his first of many arrogant moves was to push for ATCEMS to hire EMTs because he believed that there are too many paramedics in EMS and he didn’t believe there was evidence to support advanced life support providers.  This mindset was that of a physician who seemed to define EMS success by cardiac arrest statistics alone. A new “Medic I” position was created where anyone with an EMT certification or higher would be eligible to apply.  After a period of 1-2 years as a “Medic I,” those with a paramedic certification would be eligible to promote to the “Medic II” position as a paramedic-level provider. Needless to say, this change increased the workload on system-credentialed paramedic providers and also turned off many experienced providers from applying to work for ATCEMS.

While ATCEMS has since replaced the medical director with a much more progressive and aggressive medical director from the Houston area, the Medic I/Medic II model is now virtually codified as a result of ATCEMS moving to civil service. As a result of the continued workplace discontent, the latest “solution” from the union was “civil service.” Civil service would provide for state laws (or a negotiated contract with the city) to govern employee relations including hiring, promotions, and discipline. It has also codified a management team and culture where, other than the department director and medical director, all promotions are from within the department.  And this is a department that is so insular that it still believes its own PR machine about how progressive it is.  In fact, until the mid 2000s, the ATCEMS patch still had “System of the Year 1985” on it.  While other EMS systems have added paralytics for intubation and multiple other drugs and interventions, the bureaucratic inertia of ATCEMS has turned the previous clinical excellence into just another large urban EMS system, albeit without the requirement to become a firefighter. And just like most fire departments where the IAFF rules the roost, the union was created as a result of management strife, but requires on continued strife to justify “this is why we need a union.”

And now the employees are without a contract.  And “this is why we need a union.”  And so it goes.

What’s Wrong

This morning, I received a long email from a long-time mentor of mine who’s also a paramedic and attorney.  He was pretty upset about the lack of involvement from physicians in improving the state of EMS.  As I replied, I realized that I needed to adapt my reply to share with my three or four devoted followers.

I blame the docs too, but only tangentially.  They write protocols for the lowest common denominator.  They are risk averse and rightfully so.  There’s a lot of good paramedics out there, but there’s even more who shouldn’t even be trusted with a BVM (which I still think is the most dangerous and under-respected tool on the ambulance).  It goes back some to education.  We have way too many people teaching EMS education whose only expertise is that they hold an EMS certification. Law school and medical school aren’t taught the entire way through by the same someone with a JD or MD.  There are multiple classes, each taught by subject matter experts.  One of the things I hear from some of the EMS dinosaur types is how some of their classes were taught by physicians (including specialists) and nurses.  We don’t have that anymore and I think the education has suffered as a result.  CoAEMSP doesn’t care. They care that you’re using FISDAP or “Platinum Planner” to track your students and develop more metrics. They don’t care about the quality of the content.  NAEMSE doesn’t care.  They are too busy promoting “flipped classrooms,” “learning styles,” or whatever other trendy topics are out there.  The NAEMT doesn’t care.  They’re too busy promoting new card courses to cover things that should’ve been covered in initial education.  The American Heart Association doesn’t care.  They’re too busy promoting ACLS, BLS, and PALS to care.  And the NREMT?  They should care, but they don’t.  They will get the usual professional EMS committee members in a room and issue high and mighty statements about the EMS Agenda Version Whatever.  And the item writing committees for the exams will give a de facto veto to the state with the worst EMS standards because the exam “has to reflect the entire country.”  And the publishers of EMS texts don’t care.  They know their market.  Truth be told, there’s more people reading at a tenth grade reading level who are getting their paramedic because their fire department requires it than there are students (or teachers) who really want to understand the whys of prehospital medicine.  And the students and educators that do want to know how to practice prehospital medicine are supplementing their texts with medical and nursing texts as well as online material. The state health bureaucracies don’t care.  EMS is a small part of their mission.  They see their mission as public health and welfare — and to the average bureaucrat with a RN and a MPH degree, EMS is best seen and not heard — and then, only seen during EMS Week.  The Feds?  Well, truth be told, EMS really isn’t a Federal responsibility and making it such will ensure that the same people who brought us the VA will be in charge of prehospital medicine as well.
And don’t even get me started about the usual gang of idiots.  In short, every EMS committee is tasked to solve the ongoing problems of EMS but is full of the same EMS celebrities who created the problem in the first place.
EMS as a whole is beyond repair.  But virtually no single EMS system (except maybe perhaps some of the large urban systems) is beyond salvage.  Fix each system and fix the individual EMS education programs and eventually, the rising tide will lift all boats.
Until then, rant globally, fix locally.

The Semi-Regular Reminder on EMS Politics

Yep. It’s that time again. “EMS On The Hill Day” is just around the corner.  As we all know from EMS social media and the EMS “Powers That Be,” AKA:the usual conference speakers and the people who now provide consulting services to fix the messes that they created in the first place, merely showing up one day in Washington DC in a uniform that’s a cross between Idi Amin and the Knights of Columbus will magically fix all that is wrong with EMS.

 

I’ve worked in state government for years.  I’ve been a lawyer for years.  I’ve been involved in many political campaigns and involved in political parties.  I’m telling you — that’s not how any of this works.

 

We can fix EMS through the political process.  But it’s going to take more than one day per year in Washington DC.  Here’s what it’s going to take.

  1. MONEY.  Money fuels politics.  The reality is that politicians need money to get elected.  Money buys access to the game.  In other words, you can’t watch the game if you don’t have a ticket.
  2. All politics is local.  This famous quote from Tip O’Neill is so true. The Federal government has a limited role in the provision of EMS services, much of which relates to the role that Medicare/Medicaid funding plays. Local governments make the decisions on how to provide (and fund) the EMS system.  State governments typically are the ones who license and regulate EMS personnel and services.  And here we continue to think that the solution to EMS lies in Washington DC. State EMS associations need to step up the advocacy game.  Period.
  3. This is a year round sport.  EMS has to be engaged in the advocacy process year round.  Even in states like mine where the Legislature only meets every two years, there’s plenty going on in the “off season,” which is when interim studies happen and future legislation gets planned.
  4. It’s all about the staff.  Elected officials’ staff members are the subject matter experts and they help the officials develop their positions.  Their schedules are usually much more open than the elected official — get to know them and turn them into your ally.  In turn, they may well call upon you for input — and influence.
  5. The regulatory process matters. Getting legislation passed is great.  But oftentimes, the devil is in the proverbial details.  That’s why it’s imperative to be involved in the rulemaking process and in monitoring how the various regulatory agencies implement and interpret the law.
  6. Funding matters.  When you get funding, things happen.  If you want to fix EMS, fix the laws and regulations that reimburse EMS for being a transportation service rather than a medical service.
  7. Present the image of being professionals.  You want the elected official or their staff to consider you a professional they’d trust, not someone who looks and acts like they just got out of a clown car.

 

Of course, we all want the quick and easy answer to “fix” EMS.  We’ve been trying the quick and easy answers for years and here’s where we are.  Maybe it’s time we try what the adults have done to get their various professions a seat at the table in terms of funding and professional recognition from government.

What Really Happened With The Proposed Sale of AMR

A friend and fellow blogger recently posted a blog where he lays the blame at the Trump Administration for the possible sale of AMR due to the possible repeal of the Affordable Care Act, AKA “ObamaCare.”  While it’s certainly trendy to blame President Trump, Republicans, and Russian hackers for everything (and I blame them for my breakfast tacos being fouled up), I offer a more reasoned analysis that lays the blame right back it should lay — at the feet of the management of Envision Healthcare, AMR’s current parent corporation.

In my opinion, Envision Healthcare and AMR engaged in two critical failures that continue to haunt EMS.

First, we in EMS like whatever is new and trendy.  If it’s on the cover of JEMS, a Facebook page, or mentioned by the right “EMS celebrity,” we jump right in.  Whatever is the newest trend, we embrace it and go all out with it. Envision/AMR jumped into community paramedicine and spent like drunken sailors on shore leave.  AMR spent significant cash on critical care classes for paramedics, partnerships with hospital networks and hiring a significant number of “celebrity” EMS physicians.  Yet nobody ever asked the simple question, “Where is the money to pay for community paramedicine coming from?”  Apparently, nobody found an answer to that.  In other words, EMS spends money like the stereotype someone who just got a tax refund check — they put new flashy rims on a car that barely runs.  In all honesty, there’s not even a commonly accepted definition of what constitutes community paramedicine – primarily because community paramedicine programs are designed to meet unmet needs in the local community.  In other words, the needs of one community aren’t going to be the same as the next town over.  And in keeping with the free market principles of the US economy, if there’s money to be made meeting a need, it’s likely that a business will expand to fill that need. The fact that nobody was in the community paramedicine market should’ve been a big, giant, huge hint — there’s not much money to be made in diverting repeat users of EMS.

Second, like I’ve mentioned before, EMS is ill-informed and poorly engaged in the political process.  From the get-go, there was no guarantee that the Affordable Care Act would provide a revenue stream for community paramedicine, much less EMS as a whole. Next, with a Republican takeover of both houses of Congress in 2010, primarily as a response to the enactment of the Affordable Care Act.  The fact that Congress controls the purse strings of the Federal government should’ve been a hint to Envision/AMR that the Affordable Care Act was in jeopardy.  Yet, aside from seeing pictures of “EMS On The Hill Day” where everyone dresses up in an EMS uniform where they do their best impersonation of Idi Amin, I rarely see EMS involved in the political or regulatory at the Federal level and virtually never at the state level.  Healthcare is one of the most regulated business fields out there and to fail to engage, especially effectively, in the political and regulatory process is professional malpractice, if not out-and-out incompetence.  Say what you want about a certain large private EMS company based in Louisiana, but those Cajuns have a government affairs team and in-house legal counsel — and those Cajuns were smart enough not to nibble on the “reinventing healthcare” bait that the Affordable Care Act dangled in front of private EMS.  They’re also profitable and return the investment to their employee owners.  Jokes aside, that’s pretty impressive in any business, much less the EMS business.

Blaming President Trump for the possible sale of AMR is like blaming the dealer at a craps table in Vegas for the bad gambling decisions you made.  In conclusion, Envision took a huge gamble based on a poor understanding of the business and regulatory environment that it plays in.  And sadly, Envision’s employees are possibly going to be the ones who have to pay for the loss.

 

McDonald’s Applied To EMS

Nope, this post has zilch to do with EMS wages, so put those pitchforks away. Rather, I’ll ask a semi-rhetorical question.  Why do people stop at McDonald’s when they’re travelling?  It’s simple.  People know what they’re going to get and they like consistency. A McDonald’s in Boise isn’t going to differ all that much from a McDonald’s in Miami. By doing such, tourists may miss out on an incredible local diner. Just as likely, though, they could miss out on food poisoning by visiting a so-called local institution.

As of late, it seems that EMS is taking the McDonald’s approach to medicine where consistency is valued above all else. Again, as is the case with dining options, an obsession with consistency drives away exceptionally low standards and performance.  But it also seems to drive away high performance as well. And unlike a Big Mac, prehospital medicine in rural Nevada with long response times and limited access to hospitals is going to need to differ from a compact, urban center like Boston with multiple academic medical centers.

A good friend of mine has asserted that there’s a growing advocacy movement for mediocrity in EMS.  I’m not sure I’m ready to go that far.  But I do believe that the movement in EMS that pushes buzzwords is hurting EMS.

The buzzword movement pushes catchphrases such as metrics, data, standards, accreditation, “best practices,” and regularly misuses “evidence based medicine” in an effort to ensure a level of uniformity, consistency, and mediocrity in prehospital medicine.

The buzzword movement obsesses maniacally over cardiac arrest survival rates because dead/not dead is an easy metric.  Nevermind that cardiac arrest represents a very small part of what EMS does and that most out of hospital cardiac arrests are not salvageable, it’s an easy metric, so it becomes what determines “success” in EMS. Symptom relief and routing the right patients to the right care are nowhere near as easy to quantify, so these things (which EMS should be getting right) get overlooked regularly.

I’d much prefer that EMS systems focus less on consistency and compliance and more on excellence. From my experience in prehospital medicine, I’ve found that if you encourage medics (of all levels) to achieve a high level, most medics will do their best to reach it.  As the old axiom goes, a rising tide lifts all boats.

Instead of striving for consistency, I think it’s time for EMS to strive for excellence.  Even if we occasionally miss said mark, we’re going to improve rather than stagnate. Our patients deserve a commitment to excellence, not a commitment to consistency — which all too often has become shorthand for mediocrity.

Medicine and Politics

I get it.  Social media, outside of a few select areas, takes a fairly liberal bias.  And there’s more than a few folks who believe that being liberal is consistent with being educated.  I get that.  As a lawyer, I’m one hundred percent committed to upholding your constitutional rights to free speech, assembly, and petitioning the government.  That’s guaranteed by our Constitution, which is a pretty unique document and guarantee of your rights and liberties as an American citizen.

Here’s where I dissent.  There’s a lot of hashtag activism going on in the medical world on social media.  There’s a ton of people who’ve taken some very strong positions because they disagree with the current President of the United States.  That is well and good.  Again, it is your constitutional right.  I have two objections to this mindset.  First, there’s a bit of a violation of trust with the consumers of these clinicians’ social media feeds.  When your social media presence is that of a “Free and Open Access to Medicine” (aka FOAM) advocate, I rarely expect to see politics.  I expect to see medicine.  As both an attorney and a medical professional, I get that one may hold strong views and perhaps even consider them as part of your professional identity. I don’t expect to see a veiled insinuation (or in some cases, outright statement) that opposing the position of the United States government is part of one’s ethical obligation as a clinician. Further, I don’t expect to see the continued belief that being “educated” means you take a certain political worldview.  Perhaps we should recall and recollect about the collective clucking of tongues at physicians and pharmacists who refused to be involve with the “morning after” pill.

By all means, if you’re asked to do something unethical, stand up.  Stand up for your beliefs as well.  But using your megaphone to shout your beliefs in the ears of those who you’ve brought to your social media home to hear about medicine is, in this guy’s opinion, a violation of that trust. And that goes doubly so when the dissent doesn’t even involve the practice of medicine.

Are You Really Surprised?

This morning, I happened to read an article where a Senator was grandstanding about the supposed opiate abuse epidemic.  He was blaming the epidemic on everyone.  Doctors, the “evil” pharmaceutical industry, and even the DEA for not “doing something.”  Because whenever something is in the news, politicians want to “do something!”

I don’t deny that we have an epidemic of opiate abuse.  But at the most fundamental level, there is someone to blame — namely, politicians.  Our politicians have created government involvement in healthcare. (Whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing is another debate for another time.)  With government involvement comes the need to “measure” how effective the government interventions are.  And as we’ve all found when the government studies medicine, they like things that are easy to measure and sound good.   In EMS, that’s usually cardiac arrest survival — because dead or not dead is easy to measure and by golly, we don’t want dead people.

So, the government decided that “pain” was something worth measuring and studying for Medicare and Medicaid.  And then, the various accrediting bodies jumped on board because the government had already decided that pain management was a “good thing” and therefore measuring it for accreditation purposes was also a “good thing.” So, along came the messages.  Pain scale charts everywhere.  Providers being judged for pain management.  Providers being told that the goal is to get the pain to a zero on a zero to ten schedule.

But the reality kicks in.  In most acute settings (including EMS), we have limited pain management tools — mostly opiates.  And for the average person, pain is an emergency.  And I’ve already mentioned how hard it can be to get in to see a primary care provider and the inevitable referrals to specialists, labs, and imaging for all but the most minor complaints.  In short, if you’re in pain, you have two choices — be in pain until your doctor can see you and then get an opinion as to what’s wrong or seek immediate care and get opiates.

So, here we are.  People are rational and usually want relief now.  So, the tool of choice for acute pain management remains opiates. And people are now expecting their pain to be managed and they’ve almost come to expect that the relief will come in the form of an opiate. We’re now at the point where patients feel they have right to opiates for pain management.  Is it any wonder that we’ve created addicts?

And at the same time that CMS and the healthcare accreditation world demand that we “DO SOMETHING” about pain, the DEA and many state medical boards have differing opinions.  The current opiate “crisis” has led to a concern about overprescribing, which, in many cases, is rightfully justified. Especially in Texas, we’ve had a crisis with “pill mills” writing narcotic prescriptions way too easily for virtually no medical reason.  Those providers can and should be sanctioned.  But the DEA and the various state medical boards have also created a climate of fear where physicians feel as if their professional prerogative to treat patients is questioned, thus causing most chronic pain patients to be referred to pain management clinics, where again, there’s a wait to be seen, thus sending patients back to the acute care world and/or street drugs.

And as for the DEA, let’s not forget their unusual interpretations of the various controlled substances laws. Because most laws (including controlled substances laws) aren’t written to consider EMS, we’ve had some bizarre implementations of the laws by DEA in particular.  There are several DEA regional offices that have determined that EMS has no authority to administer any controlled substances (pain management and sedation).  Others have held that each ambulance and station (or posting location in system status management) has to be licensed as a facility by the DEA.  These competing interpretations have reached the point there’s legislation pending before Congress to clarify EMS providers’ authority to administer controlled substances.

And in the EMS setting, let’s not even discuss that the only pain management option we have in most systems is an opiate.  Opiates aren’t great for chronic pain or mild pain, but if the only tool you have is a hammer, everything starts to look like a nail.

I’ve been a lawyer in government practice for over twelve years now.  I don’t expect that you can get various government agencies to all get along or even use the same playbook.  But what I have come to expect is that if you get government involved in healthcare, you’re going to have some unintended consequences. The only thing you can consistently expect from government interfering in the physician (or nurse or medic) relationship with a patient is that there will be consequences.  And said consequences will be unexpected.  More often than not, they may even be worse than the problem they were addressing.

Time To Call It Like I See It

In my EMS career, I’ve been very fortunate for two things.  One, I’ve had the opportunity to work for some great EMS systems.  Two, by virtue of my outside career, I don’t have to rely on EMS to make ends meet or pay the bills.  To me, that also means I have an obligation to speak my mind about EMS, especially since many of my colleagues don’t always have the luxury of being able to speak theirs.

Today is one of those days where I’m going to speak my mind and say it as loud as I can. A few moments ago, I saw a social media post from a large EMS publication.  The post was entitled “Addressing Ten Harmful Realities of Modern EMS.” Plain and simple, I’m not going to link to it.  Here’s why.  To be honest with you, this article was written by an EMS consultant who’s been involved in the EMS world for years.  The article is published by a major EMS publication.

In short, we’ve got the same usual suspects of the same usual EMS columnists, the same usual people who are on every EMS committee, the same EMS publications, and the same EMS consultants telling how to fix the problems in EMS that, in large part, they’ve helped create and/or perpetuate.  At the very least, they’ve been complicit in not addressing them for a damned long time.

The main EMS publications aren’t peer reviewed.  They consist largely of reprinting advertisements for products.  The “science” they post is largely dated and the truly progressive EMS systems (the ones that aren’t busy tooting their own horns) have been ahead of the curve established by the EMS publications for a long time.  I can guarantee the pictures that’ll be shown in the same publications every month: namely a picture of fire-medics somewhere on the East Coast of the US, wearing full bunker gear, working a “scary looking” car wreck, and putting everyone on a backboard.  It’s at the point that several of my smarter friends have nicknamed one publication “Backboard Action” and refer to many EMS publications as “backboard porn.”  And mind you, the science has been trending away from the spinal motion restriction dogma for a while. Our EMS media isn’t the “conscience of EMS.”  It’s little more than a cheerleading section for the self-promoters of EMS.

The article goes on to talk about working conditions in EMS.  My friends, this article is written by an advocate for many of the practices that have created these working conditions.  If you like poor pay and system status management where you park your ambulance in an abandoned parking lot at 3:00 AM because that’s where the computer predicts coverage is needed, then, by all means, continue listening to the same people try to fix the problems that they’ve created.

The same people who’ve brought us these working conditions are the same people who continue to limit the knowledge base and educational standards of EMS.  Whether they use the “poor volunteers” or the fire service as their excuse, they continue to keep the same low standards and low expectations guaranteed to “meet minimal standards” and keep EMS down.  If you wonder why the best and brightest leave EMS for nursing or medicine and why the barely competent become EMS managers or educators, look right at the same EMS committee members who continue to pass on the chance to improve our educational standards or knowledge base.

And let’s talk about the medicine.  Let’s talk about the science.  That gets defined by our professional committee members and celebrity EMS medical directors.  Every year, there’s a “Gathering of the Eagles” where a bunch of celebrity EMS physicians present their opinions.  The Eagles, in theory, represent the fifty largest EMS systems in the country.  Large doesn’t equal great.  Far from it.  The District of Columbia, New York City, and Los Angeles aren’t exactly renowned for their quality of prehospital care. These presentations have a strong bias toward cardiac arrest.  While cardiac arrest is, in part, what EMS was started to fight, cardiac arrests represent a small portion of EMS responses.  Cardiac arrest gets studied because “dead” or “not dead” is easy to quantify.  Let’s talk about pain management.  Let’s talk about airways.  And let’s not dumb down the medicine because you have a large system of providers and it’s “too hard” to roll out training or keep quality assurance and quality improvement on “so many medics.”

A special mention to the majority of the EMS conferences as well. I’ve spoken at several, primarily state, conferences.  I’ve been fortunate in that these people are usually willing to let me speak my mind on a variety of topics, usually related to the law in EMS.  But the national conferences seem to represent many of the problems in EMS as well.  Namely, you’ve got “EMS celebrities” presenting topics that are either “fluff” or represent science that is already so well-established that it’s borderline negligence to not already incorporate it in your practice.  When speeches entitled “A Pressure Dressing For the Soul” or “Incorporating CPAP into Your Practice” are major speeches, the problem is clear.  By making everyone feel good about themselves and their practice of medicine, you may get “butts in the seats” but you’re sure not advancing the profession.  Just once, I’d pay good money to have someone present on the Dunning-Kruger effect and its applicability to EMS. Instead, we get feel good platitudes from someone dressed in a uniform that looks like a third world dictator.

In other words, the same people doing the same things in EMS aren’t going to fix it.  But I’m optimistic.  And here’s why.  New people in EMS are stepping up to the plate.  They’re recognizing the challenges in EMS.  And they’re advancing them, even when the usual gang of idiots tell them it’s pointless.  In 2014, two medics, who happen to be friends and inspirations to me, decided that EMS provider suicides were unacceptable.  They formed the Code Green Campaign.  Several other medics I know also decided to tackle mental health in EMS as well.  They formed Reviving Responders. And in 2015, when the Texas Legislature faced opposition from emergency nurses about allowing paramedics to function in the hospital, several Texas medics started talking on social media, shared the news, and formed the Association of Texas EMS Professionals to advocate for Texas EMS in the political arena.  The issue is not whether EMS can improve.  It clearly can.  It’s just time for us to recognize that what Mad Magazine calls “the usual gang of idiots” aren’t going to get us there.

To the younger EMS providers, I say, this is your time.  Stand up and lead EMS because the dinosaurs have failed to evolve and are doomed to extinction.  There is ZERO reason why EMS can’t become a respected medical profession entrusted to perform advanced assessments and interventions in the prehospital setting.  The only thing preventing this is that we’ve selected the wrong leaders.  Probably more accurately, we’ve been passive and allowed the wrong people to claim to speak for EMS.

Thank you for reading and for allowing me to be a voice out there.

You Get What You Pay For

In Texas, we have a strong tradition of limited government.  In particular, we limit the role of county government.  In most counties, county government provides law enforcement, jails, courts, and roads.  Because of the limits placed on county government by the Texas Constitution as well as the limited source of funds available to county government (primarily property tax revenues), the majority of county governments in Texas do not directly provide fire or EMS services.  In response to the need to fund fire and EMS services for smaller communities and/or unincorporated areas of the county, the Texas Legislature authorizes the creation of Emergency Services Districts (ESDs).   ESDs have the authority to levy a property tax to provide fire and/or EMS protection within their boundaries. That tax is up to ten cents per one hundred dollars of property value.

North Hays County ESD #1 is the Emergency Services District that serves Dripping Springs and much of the rest of northwestern Hays County.  They currently tax their property at a rate of 2.52 cents per one hundred dollars of property value.  They are holding an election on May 7 to raise the tax rate to a maximum of seven cents per hundred dollars of property value to continue funding EMS in their district.  Currently, San Marcos/Hays County EMS is their contracted EMS provider and, like many EMS systems, faces increasing call volume as well as increasing costs of providing EMS in the district.  (Disclosure: I formerly worked as a part-time medic for San Marcos/Hays County EMS. I have also responded with San Marcos/Hays County EMS on mutual aid with another EMS service in the area.)

Enter the local state representative in the area — a man named Jason Isaac. Mr. Isaac has come out publicly against the tax increase and is pandering to a reactionary anti-tax element of a conservative electorate.  Heck, I’m pretty conservative.  Those that know me have described me as a fiscal conservative, socially libertarian, and a neo-conservative hawk on foreign policy.  I’m no Bernie Sanders here.

If Mr. Isaac is truly concerned about the actions of the ESD, he would know that the Texas Department of Agriculture has information about the formation and operation of ESDs.  But it’s easier to put out posts on social media addressing an issue where the accountability lies with local government.  I thought that Texas conservatives favored local control and local solutions for local problems?

But there are some very legitimate roles for government to play, particularly local government. One expectation that all of us have, save for a few anarchists, is for our 911 calls to be answered and for help to come.  Better yet, we expect competent providers to deliver compassionate and clinically appropriate emergency medical care.  San Marcos/Hays County EMS has delivered that care to Hays County for years, including the residents of North Hays County ESD #1.  I’m standing for quality EMS, not sound-bites designed to appeal to fears about property taxes.

Think Nationally. Act Locally.

There are a lot of new ideas floating around EMS these days.  Compact licensure for EMTs and paramedics just like nurses already have.  Community paramedicine.  New educational standards.  And the list goes on.

Here’s why many of these well-intentioned ideas remain just that — well-intentioned ideas.  Many well-intentioned EMS opinion leaders with well-intentioned ideas have no idea how, or more importantly, where a well-intentioned EMS idea makes into law.

With a few notable exceptions (EMTALA, HIPAA, and CLIA coming to mind immediately), most EMS laws and regulations are creatures of state government.  Overall, emergency medical services are provided at the local level and are regulated by state statutes and administrative rules/regulations.

I see a lot of EMS folks wanting either Congress or some national body (e.g. National Association of State EMS Officials, the National Association of EMTs, or the National Registry of EMTs) to DO SOMETHING, DAMMIT!   I don’t always oppose their ideas (well, except for my healthy dose of skepticism about the so-called “Field EMS Bill.”), but they’re usually barking up the wrong tree.   If you want to make changes to the regulatory framework of EMS, you need to quit looking toward Washington.

As a valued service to my minions and other readers, I’ll tell you the way to fix EMS.  First, learn where your state’s EMS laws are located in statute.  Second, learn where the state administrative regulations regarding EMS can be found and which state agency or agencies create, implement, and enforce these regulations.  Next, learn who your state representative and senator are.  Also, learn who are the senior management in your state’s EMS regulatory entities.  And learn who are the chairs of the legislative committees overseeing EMS laws.

And then, when you want to change how we do EMS, contact those people.  Write, call, email, or better yet see them.  While the results may not be as sexy as going to Washington DC in a hotel doorman’s uniform and getting pictures posted online, the results will be more effective, easier, and might just improve EMS. One state at a time.