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Home > Topics > EMS Management
August 28, 2012
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EMS News in Focus
by Arthur Hsieh

Stop being cheapskates and perform background checks in EMS

Some EMTs have hidden their sordid and criminal histories because no background checks are required in NJ

By Arthur Hsieh

Editor's note: In N.J., EMTs and people applying to become emergency responders are not required to undergo criminal background checks — the only emergency health professional that escapes this kind of scrutiny.

N.J. EMS providers are back in the national spotlight. This article reports on the dozens of EMTs who have hidden their sordid and criminal histories because no background checks are required in the state.

I'm not sure what the national statistics are, but I can hazard a guess that more states require background checks on EMS providers than not.

But in this day and age, can there be any argument for not conducting them? We go into people's lives at a moment's notice, often when they are at their most vulnerable. Members of the public must have full faith in public safety providers since they don't get to choose who comes to their aid when they call.

Frankly, the cost is trivial -- $1.4 million for 20,000 personnel, or $70 per EMT. Because the state depends upon -- insists upon -- a volunteer workforce in EMS, that seems like a pretty cheap investment to maintain public confidence.

Critics of the bill might spout statistics about how few EMS providers have received disciplinary action, but that could simply be a lack of detection capability and enforcement.

As one of my colleagues is fond of saying, "Trust, but verify." No truer words have been spoken in situations like these.

N.J. needs to stop being a cheapskate about its emergency care system and provide its citizens a high level of service, rather than just saying it does.

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. In the profession 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 published textbook author, has presented at conferences nationwide, and continues to provide patient care at a rural hospital-based ALS system. Contact Art at Art.Hsieh@ems1.com.
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