5 times EMS made mainstream media headlines in 2019

Issues plaguing EMS, from low wages to mental health and safety concerns, the plight of rural emergency medicine and the FDNY’s first female Chief of EMS brought EMS into the national spotlight


In the 2019 EMS Trend Report, 83% of respondents indicated that the current reimbursement for EMS does not cover the cost of service provision; and 87% disagreed with the statement that the public understands what EMS providers do.

“One is directly tied to the other,” NAEMT President Matt Zavadsky wrote. “We have lots of work to do in order to explain and demonstrate to our communities what EMS actually does and the value we bring to patients and payers of our services.”

When the mainstream media shares EMS’s challenges and successes, and the personal stories behind the lives lost and saved in prehospital medicine, it opens a window for the general public into this profession unlike any other.  

When the mainstream media shares EMS’s challenges and successes, and the personal stories behind the lives lost and saved in prehospital medicine, it opens a window for the general public into this profession unlike any other.  (Photo/Equal Pay for EMS Facebook)
When the mainstream media shares EMS’s challenges and successes, and the personal stories behind the lives lost and saved in prehospital medicine, it opens a window for the general public into this profession unlike any other.  (Photo/Equal Pay for EMS Facebook)

Following are 5 occasions EMS was highlighted in the mainstream media in 2019, shining that spotlight on the providers who give their all each and every day.

1. ‘The New York Times’ calls for increased wages for EMTs

In September, the Editorial Board of “The New York Times” published a piece called, “Emergency Medical Workers Deserve Pay Equity.” The tagline read, “Paramedics and EMTs are just as professional as firefighters and should be compensated accordingly.”

The article profiled FDNY paramedics and the challenges they face, from assaults from violent patients, to coming under gunfire in the ambulance, and noted after 5 years on the job, the baseline salaries for EMTs ($50,604) and paramedics ($65,226) “is significantly less than what the city’s firefighters earn,” ($85,292). The NYT shared how the discrepancy in pay and benefits has prompted hundreds of EMTs and paramedics to become firefighters, which has contributed to the shortage in EMS providers in New York.

The Board highlighted Mayor Bill de Blasio’s comments on how “the work is different,”  and even agreed there are differences in the two professions, but stressed, “as the department’s role in emergencies changes, and it becomes a significant provider of medical care, the salary and benefits of its EMS workers must also evolve.”

The article drew many comments of support from former EMTs, citizens and other public safety and healthcare professionals who also pointed out the physical and mental toll prehospital medicine takes. One nurse, commenting on the autonomy with which EMTs and paramedics face life-threatening emergencies, noted, “It is inappropriate to lay so much responsibility on one person and fail to compensate them fairly.”

Another reader commented, “I’ve never understood the pay disparity between EMTs/Paramedics and our firefighters and police.  I support pay equity among these groups who all do excellent work that we can count on when their services are needed.”

Learn more about how compensation is linked to retention

Read the “New York Times” article here, and learn more about EMS compensation with these articles from EMS1:

2. VOX features interview with Ann Marie Farina on protecting first responders’ mental health

In June, Vox, an explanatory news platform that shares people’s stories in politics, policy, business, pop culture, science and more, featured an interview with EMS1 Editorial Advisory Board Member Ann Marie Farina, NR-P.

Farina, who has worked as a wildland fire medic, a firefighter/paramedic, a 911 transport medic and as an educator in EMS, founded The Code Green Campaign, a mental health awareness campaign that raises awareness about mental health conditions and suicide in first responders.

In the Vox exclusive, “Why suicide is a top cause of death for police officers and firefighters,” Farina related how first responders are trained on physical and scene safety, but not on how to protect their mental health. “Research shows that chronic workplace stress has a more significant impact on first responder mental health than critical incidents such as officer-involved shootings or pediatric cardiac arrests. Chronic workplace stress is triggered by difficult work schedules, a chronic lack of sleep, and inadequate equipment, but it also includes more insidious issues,” she noted.

“On days when there are headlines like ‘Three NYPD officers dead by suicide in less than 10 days,’ it can feel like nothing has been accomplished. However, I know that isn’t the case. Progress is being made, even if it lags behind that of other safety initiatives,” Farina told Vox. “We can’t bring back those we’ve lost, but we can keep working to look out for ourselves and each other in order to avoid losing any more.”

Learn more about first responder mental health and suicide

Read the Vox article by Ann Marie Farina here, and learn more about how to prevent suicide, identify when an EMS colleague is struggling with mental health issues and how to build mental health resilience with these articles from EMS1:

3. Chief Lillian Bonsinore makes history in the FDNY

In May, Lillian Bonsignore made history when she became the first woman to hold the rank of Chief of EMS in the FDNY. Chief Bonsignore set two new milestones for the FDNY – becoming the highest-ranked woman in the uniformed service, and the highest-ranked openly gay member.

As the FDNY’s Chief of EMS Operations, Bonsignore is responsible for the operational oversight and leadership of more than 4,000 EMS providers in New York City where EMS responds to 1.5 million calls per year. 

Chief Bonsignore’s appointment made headlines across New York media and beyond:

FDNY EMS Chief Lillian Bonsignore. (Photo/FDNY)
FDNY EMS Chief Lillian Bonsignore. (Photo/FDNY)

Bonsignore credits her mentors for encouraging her to take a summer job as an EMT before attending medical school. “It’s been 29 years. This is the longest summer job I’ve ever had,” Bonsignore quipped during the EMS World 2019 keynote, where she was a panelist. For Bonsignore, the immediacy of the job and the ability to serve as a lifeline for people in their most desperate moments connected with her on an emotional level. “I just fell in love with it. The passion I had is the same I have now and I have the privilege to serve one of the largest EMS systems in the world.”

Learn more about Chief Bonsignore with these articles from EMS1:

4. Salon exposes frequency of assaults against EMTs

In September, Bob Hennelly penned an article for Salon – a digital media outlet covering breaking news, politics, entertainment, culture and technology – titled, “Chronically underpaid EMTs are being assaulted at record rates.”

Hennelly referenced the low pay, long hours and stress that takes a toll on EMS providers in an industry facing high turnover and chronic shortages. “Across the nation, emergency medical service professionals, the front-line workforce upon which so much of a patient outcome rests, are grossly underpaid for brutal work schedules that put them at risk of both serious physical injury and burnout,” he wrote.

What he called “the cherry on the top of this abuse sundae,” is the fact that EMS providers are 14 times more likely to be violently assaulted on the job than firefighters.

Learn more about assaults against EMS providers

Read the Salon article here, and learn more about preventing and dealing with assaults against EMS providers with these articles from EMS1:

5. NBC News highlights rural America’s ‘broken’ healthcare system 

In October, NBC News’s Erika Edwards presented an in-depth investigative report into the rural healthcare crisis titled, “What if you call 911 and no one comes?”

This year, local news outlets out of states including Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Illinois and Pennsylvania have reported dangerous shortages, trouble recruiting volunteers and closures.  

The NBC News expose highlighted the dangers of living in a rural town, as EMS agencies struggle to maintain shift coverage through volunteers, and the distance between hospitals grows. 

Edwards shared stories of patients saved only because providers were able to keep them alive on lengthy transports (think 60 miles), and of agencies struggling daily to staff their ambulances.

Marmarth, North Dakota Paramedic Erick Hartse, one of 12 EMS volunteers for the town’s population of 143, told NBC News, “We are literally one person away from closing. We’ve been relying on volunteers to be the backbone in EMS for a long time, and unfortunately that needs to change. Could you imagine being a volunteer doctor? It’s unfathomable.”

The piece noted the contributing factor of shuttered rural hospitals, which compounds the demand for emergency services in those remote areas. 

“While those dedicated paramedics volunteer out of a sense of duty and loyalty to their community, with rising healthcare costs and a lack of resources, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to maintain service, putting citizens at risk,” Edwards wrote. 

Learn more about rural EMS and volunteer challenges

Read the NBC News article here, and learn more about challenges EMS face in rural America with these articles from EMS1:

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