Ill. officials promise to improve private EMS regulations
Officials said they plan to increase background checks after it was revealed that an EMT involved in a fatal ambulance crash had a long criminal history
ABC7 Chicago reported that the issue of lax background checks and a largely unregulated state licensing system was brought to light in March when an ambulance crash killed all three people onboard.
Investigative reporters found that EMT James Wesley, who was transporting kidney dialysis patient Larry Marshall, Jr., had cocaine in his system at the time of the crash. Wesley, Marshall and Prentice Williams, who was studying to be an EMT and was helping out in the ambulance, all died.
It was also revealed that Wesley was an ex-convict and did not disclose a drug conviction, which would have disqualified him from obtaining an EMT license.
"If people really knew how little background checking the state agencies does for these licensed professionals they would be shocked and outraged," attorney Tom Zimmerman said.
Zimmerman said his main concern is that the state uses the honor system instead of performing cursory checks on EMT applicants.
"We are concerned that due to the lax oversight of the state agency, that there may be other EMTs who are just as unqualified as this driver who are out there putting people's lives at risk," he said.
Illinois State Ambulance Association president Chris Vandenberg, who also owns three ambulance companies, said EMS employers do their best to make sure their staff members are properly licensed, but added that there is a lack of state oversight.
"It's probably not the best way to handle it because I might do a background check but another company down the road says, ‘No, I'm going not going to, I'm just going to put an EMT or paramedic in the seat,’" Vandenberg said.
The Illinois Department of Public Health announced plans to improve the state’s licensing system after the issue was made public.
"We are going to be moving to introducing fingerprint-based background checks," IDPH Director Dr. Nirav Shah said. "Anyone who is applying for a new license or renewal will have to go the fingerprint based background check that we are going to be moving toward adopting. Incidents like the one that occurred earlier this year as well as others that have occurred have exposed this loophole and we think it's time that we close it.”
National Association of State EMS Officials executive director Dia Gainor said the use of fingerprint-based FBI checks is becoming more common in the EMS industry.
"We have to be certain the individual is competent, we have to be sure they are going to function in an ethical way. We have to assure in an ongoing basis that they pose no risk to the public," she said.