The State of …Things 2022
Last month when I asked folks in NYS EMS for their recommendations on how our system and our state could be improved for both EMS providers and the public, I received a very candid response, " I hope your publication is planning to add 300+ pages to that issue… to provide a full range of information." In response, I decided to continue the theme of "How COVID has affected us," in this month's article.
Considering the loss of lives, jobs, family time, schooling, and general interactions between neighbors that our country experienced the past two-plus years, there really is NO going back, but YES, we can go forward as NYS Governor Kathy Hochul has encouraged. "New York is due for a comeback the likes of which this country has never seen. Together, we will lead that comeback. We will control the virus, and not let it control us. To confront this pandemic and prepare for the future, we will support the men and women who have been on the frontlines from the very beginning…"
Hochul speaks of rebuilding our healthcare economy. Her plans include investing in healthcare and supporting wages for workers, relieving financial burdens for healthcare students, retaining the existing healthcare workforce, and creating an office of Healthcare Workforce Innovation. Allegedly this office will use input from health and direct care providers, educational organizations, labor unions, and other stakeholders to better coordinate statewide health strategies.
Overall, these seem like good positions, but the frontline healthcare workers, notably our Emergency Medical Service providers, need firm commitments. EMS providers have consistently worked for low wages beginning at just $36,000 annually, they need better pay – admittedly NYC is one of the highest places to live in the state but one survey estimates a family of four requires an income of more than $100,000 annually. And will Emergency Medical Service Providers who go to school for higher education also receive the benefit Hochul mentioned for healthcare workers, or is that just for nursing students?
In the past two years, there have been serious staff shortages at EMS agencies across the country. Hundreds of first responders got sick with COVID with some deaths and long-term disabilities. Other providers were burnt out from handling multiple times their normal calls. In New York City alone, on one April day in 2020, FDNY-EMS handled almost 6000 calls, many times their normal volume. Even the rigs and equipment suffered from the high volume of calls. One suburban company still has more than half of its fleet "in the shop" for needed repairs and parts.
Emotional stress has added to a growing staff shortage as well. In addition to transporting patients to hospitals, leaving crying families behind to say their goodbyes before transport, our first responders were faced with horrible decisions as well. At one point, medics and EMTs were told not to resuscitate in the field due to possibly spreading the infections; this directive was rescinded quickly since it was not in compliance with NYS protocols. Some crews were then told not to transport patients who could not be revived in the field due to overcrowded hospital ERs —instead, they were told to hand the "patient" over to local police adding more stress as families condemned what they felt was abandoning their loved ones.
Currently (March 2022) there is a bill being presented to state lawmakers that would classify NYS EMS as “Essential Services”. If this bill is passed, our EMS providers would receive better health services for themselves as well as better pensions, benefits that could attract more applicants to the job. This bill would also make municipalities responsible for emergency ambulance services guaranteeing a standard of care, funding, and providing long-overdue recognition of our EMS heroes.