New Wis. law allows rural EMS providers to put advanced training to use

Under the new law, first responders who work in rural areas can operate at the highest level for which they have a state license

By Ashley McCallum
The Janesville Gazette

CLINTON, Wis. — Some first responders in rural areas are cheering a new state law that will allow them to provide lifesaving medical services if they are trained to do so.

"This act is the biggest improvement to rural Wisconsin ambulance service protocols in my seven years of being an EMT," Domanic Wiegel, a Brodhead Area EMS captain, wrote in an email to The Gazette.

Before the new law, known as Wisconsin Act 97, rural emergency medical services workers in small EMS departments could function only as basic EMTs, even if some workers had more advanced training, said Wiegel and Charles Skokut, EMS coordinator for the Clinton Fire Protection District.

If a rural community faced a situation in which it needed advanced EMTs or paramedics, it had to request them from larger EMS departments.

That could be life-threatening in an emergency. Clinton EMS workers might have to wait 10 to 15 minutes at times for Janesville or Beloit personnel to arrive, Skokut said.

Under the new law, first responders who work in rural areas, such as Brodhead and Clinton, can operate at the highest level for which they have a state license, Wiegel said.

"Act 97 is a big win for the people living, working or traveling in Wisconsin," Wiegel said. "It allows emergency responders to use all of their skills to help patients in their time of need, instead of the responder having the skills and knowledge but being limited in when they can use them."

A rural department is defined by the state as "an ambulance service provider for which the population of the largest single municipality in the ambulance service provider's service area is less than 10,000."

Clinton EMS currently has two advanced EMTs and two paramedics on staff, Skokut said. Under the old law, all of them had to work as basic EMTs in Clinton.

Brodhead had five paramedics in the same situation, Wiegel said.

Both department leaders plan to take advantage of the new law. First, they must get approval from their medical directors and update their operational plans accordingly.

"It's not going to happen overnight," Skokut said. "We're hoping to do the best we can to get it up and running. Rock County has a very good medical director who is always moving us forward, never backwards."

The reason that many rural EMS departments were restricted to basic EMS services is because they either had to commit to providing advanced care 24 hours a day or not at all. Many didn't have the staff for the 24-hours-a-day requirement, so they couldn't provide it at all.

Now, rural departments can offer advanced medical services whenever an advanced worker is on duty, Skokut said. Larger departments will assist when needed, he said.

Another new law, Wisconsin Act 66, allows EMS workers to provide nonemergency care to patients who might use emergency services frequently, Wiegel said.

EMS departments that enroll in the Community Emergency Medical Services program under Act 66 will be able to administer in-home health care, including disease management and follow-up medical visits after hospital discharge, according to a summary of the law.

The law aims to reduce the number of hospital visits after certain procedures and for the elderly, Skokut said.

Participating departments will receive special training from their medical directors, he said.

Clinton and Brodhead EMS departments do not plan to participate in Community EMS because of their small staffs.

The Gazette was unable to reach Janesville's EMS department to ask if it will participate.

Copyright 2017 The Janesville Gazette

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