By Barbara Aras
NEW JERSEY’S VOLUNTEER emergency medical services (EMS) community is grateful to Governor Christie for his veto of A2095. For the record, the New Jersey State First Aid Council (NJSFAC) supports changes to the EMS system that lead to better patient care. We objected to those portions of the bill that would have increased costs, bureaucracy and red tape, and ultimately pushed out the volunteers.
The 83-year-old nonprofit NJSFAC represents more than 20,000 EMS volunteers affiliated with 325 volunteer ambulance, first aid and rescue squads throughout the state.
Using “Robo-call” scare tactics and false propaganda, the bill’s supporters – largely those in the paid-EMS sector who had everything to gain from the bill’s passage – ran a smear campaign against the volunteers. Before the Legislature revisits the so-called “EMS redesign” issue in the coming months, we volunteers want to set the record straight.
• Every emergency medical technician (EMT) in the state, whether volunteer or paid, must successfully complete the same training and certification process, and adhere to the same standards. Distorted insinuations that volunteers are less qualified than paid responders are ridiculous.
• EMS volunteers are professionals; they just don’t collect a paycheck for their work.
• Although the bill would have waived costs for volunteer EMTs’ background checks and licensing, it failed to waive those fees for other volunteer EMS responders.
• Background checks and licensing costs would have to be paid by someone, either state or local taxpayers, or maybe the EMS agencies themselves.
• NJ EMTs are certified by the Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS). Requiring them to be licensed would be an extra, unnecessary and costly step.
• Boards within the Division of Consumer Affairs license all medical professions in the state. Under the bill, the DHSS also would have had EMT and EMS agency licensure power. Why? Again, who would pay for that?
• The bill called for a state EMS medical director who must be a board-certified emergency room physician. Who would pay for this director and his/her staff?
• The bill also would have established three regional EMS medical directors and staffs. Where would this money come from?
The bill included many hidden costs, but made no mention of how they would be funded. Even the Office of Legislative Services, which prepares fiscal notes on pending bills, indicated the measure would have resulted in additional DHSS administrative costs and increased training costs. And what about the costs to municipalities, existing EMS providers and state residents?
NJSFAC analysis indicated the bill would have cost tens of millions of dollars, at a minimum. The bill’s supporters, who denied it would cost anything, aren’t fooling anyone.
Consider this: In many areas of New Jersey, when someone calls 911, the ambulance responding likely is staffed by volunteer EMTs. In 2010, NJSFAC volunteers spent 3 million hours answering 355,000 calls, saving New Jerseyans $225 million.
NJ Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness officials past and present have stated publicly that, without its current, strong volunteer EMS base, New Jersey would be unable to respond appropriately to disasters such as 9/11, or the debilitating hurricanes, floods and blizzards that frequently target our area.
The vetoed bill would have discouraged volunteers, leaving many municipalities throughout New Jersey without close, affordable EMS coverage on a daily basis, much less during catastrophes.
Let’s also remember that the EMT Training Fund, which was established in 1995 to pay for volunteers’ training, then raided of millions by former Gov. Jon Corzine, is broke. In addition, the pending new EMT curriculum could double the required initial training hours from 120 to 240, demanding even more time and money out of pocket from volunteers who simply want to help their neighbors.
The naysayers who accuse the NJSFAC of having a “me, me, me” mentality are wrong, wrong, wrong.
Barbara Aras, of Little Silver, is president of the New Jersey State First Aid Council.