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EMS organizations show collaboration at national conference

An effort to bring together the leaders of national EMS membership organizations to build communication, trust and collaboration on issues aims to allow EMS to “speak with one voice”

Updated June 2015

Collaboration is one of those concepts that sounds straightforward and noble—what’s not to like about individuals or groups with different interests coming together to leverage their influence, knowledge and experience to accomplish a common goal? Yet in practice, true collaboration can be complex and difficult. It takes real skill and commitment … and more time, patience and leadership than most people realize.

At the annual conference of the American Ambulance Association (AAA) last November, Jim DeTienne, state EMS director from Montana and president of the National Association of State EMS Officials (NASEMSO), accepted AAA’s Annual Partner Award, which recognized NASEMSO’s collaborative efforts to promote the best interests of the profession as a whole. In accepting the award, DeTienne mentioned a new collaboration that NASEMSO is helping to organize, one that is representative of the approach that garnered the award: the Joint National EMS Leadership Forum (JNEMSLF).

That’s a mouthful of letters to remember, but it’s important for the maturation of EMS. The idea is simple but powerful: Bring together the leaders of national EMS membership organizations of every persuasion to build communication, trust and eventually collaboration on issues that will allow EMS to “speak with one voice.”

In an e-mail, DeTienne told me that the Joint Forum is not a formal organization with officers and dues; he also said that it has been active for several years, with a core group of five interested EMS organizations. NASEMSO is helping to shepherd the effort and providing logistical support; it is only within the past 12 months, under the stewardship of then-president Randy Kuykendall, that the group decided to expand to include additional national membership organizations. Currently 14 organizations are participating. DeTienne calls it “a grand experiment with some great goals.”

The first goal, he says, is to simply be a vehicle to share information—for organizations to find out what each other is doing, what challenges they have, where overlap might exist and what they can learn from each other. Currently this happens at meetings at national EMS conferences, such as EMS Today and EMS World, and two meetings a year in conjunction with National EMS Advisory Council and Federal Interagency Committee on EMS meetings.

The second goal is to provide a sounding board for the federal government on policy issues. Federal agencies representing every potential interest in EMS—from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to Health & Human Services to the Department of Homeland Security—are invited to listen and participate. “EMS is a very diverse industry with numerous interests and numerous organizations to represent those interests,” DeTienne writes. “Where else can the feds go to listen to what so many national organizations are up to and what concerns them?” In 2012, the Joint Forum was able to move forward on items related to drug shortages and the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission and gave federal agencies feedback on EMS needs.

Lastly, DeTienne says, there is a recognition among the organizations that EMS has been fractured for too long. “As an industry, we will never be able to face tough challenges that face us all—funding, national leadership and many other issues in our bucket list—unless we learn how to become one voice,” he says.

This is still a formative period for the National Forum, he writes, and they are learning to walk before they run, with a focus on issues that are easier to agree on. Eventually, this preparation will serve to build trust for collaboration in a much bigger way, perhaps on an issue that is yet to emerge. “There are many challenges facing EMS,” DeTienne says, “and unless we learn how to be that one voice when it counts, we are going to get swallowed up and lost in the big swirl.”

For more information and a current list of organizations that belong to the Joint National EMS Leadership Forum, contact Dia Gainor, executive director of NASEMSO, at

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