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Home > Topics > EMS Management
March 13, 2012
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EMS News in Focus
by Arthur Hsieh

Who's monitoring ethics in public safety?

Tenn. incident makes for strong argument on mandatory background checks for public safety personnel

By Arthur Hsieh

Editor's note: A Tenn. paramedic went on an extended medical leave last May. What his bosses didn't know was that he was really serving a jail sentence for domestic assault.

Let's begin today's column with a couple of definitions from the Merriam-Webster Dictionary Online.

Ethics: (n) a set of moral principles; a guiding philosophy.

Insubordinate: (n) Disobedient to authority.

Let's use both of these words in a sentence. For example:

"The paramedic with questionable ethics was insubordinate to his agency's policies when he failed to report being jailed for domestic assault."

Ouch. Seems like the oversight of both the paramedic and department have been a little lax, so the community's ability to trust its EMS provider might be a bit shaken.

Did the department recognize an odd leave pattern? Or did supervisors request some evidence of a legitimate medical absence? No doubt other members of the department will be affected by this issue once records are scrutinized.

But the department is fairly large, and given current budget cuts, it may be difficult for administration to track these types of issues.

The incident makes for a strong argument on mandatory background checks for public safety personnel, allowing automatic reporting of criminal offenses to departments. Only 28 states currently require background checks for state credentialing of EMS providers. Um, check that — Tenn. does do background checks, but it's unclear what the department standards are.

I have to circle back to the behavior of the paramedic. I'm sure that the power of rationalization allowed the paramedic to make some bad choices, both in life and on the job. Yet his behavior still falls below the level of ethics to which most of us would adhere.

More important, public trust is laid upon a foundation of public safety providers having a high standard of ethics. If one brick of that foundation is broken, how many more might be crumbling?

About the author

EMS1 Editor in Chief Art Hsieh, MA, NREMT-P currently teaches at the Public Safety Training Center, Santa Rosa Junior College in the Emergency Care Program. Since 1982, Art has worked as a line medic and chief officer in the private, third service and fire-based EMS. He has directed both primary and EMS continuing education programs. Art is a textbook author, has presented at conferences nationwide, and continues to provide patient care at an EMS service in Northern California. Contact Art at Art.Hsieh@ems1.com.
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