New Pa. EMS rules create burden for small providers
Changes to license requirements mandates agencies develop 24-hour, 7-day-per-week plans for who will respond, even if it is another company
By Jenna Ebersole
STROUDSBURG, Pa. — A new set of state standards for EMS services coming in April could place additional burdens on providers, especially if they are smaller and volunteer, but also help ensure best practices, EMS providers and officials said this week.
The changes adjust the rules that the Department of Health and local EMS councils enforce, and could result in violations if providers fail. But a Department of Health official said the goal is not to shut down any provider, and regulators will work with agencies over time to bring them into compliance.
The EMS System Act, which has significant provisions rolling out April 10, rescinds "outdated regulations," according to a state bulletin issued in October.
The act makes changes to licensure and certification requirements and mandates that agencies develop 24-hour, 7-day-per-week plans for who will respond, even if it is another company, the bulletin says.
The change also grants the department emergency suspension powers and adds civil monetary penalties to its options for disciplinary action.
One Monroe County EMS provider said the standards do not appear too drastic, but will affect the way his service operates.
Will Hassinger, captain at the all-volunteer Marshalls Creek Ambulance Station 5, said his station is not staffed 24 hours a day, given that it is all volunteer, but that is not one of the new requirements. Still, he will have to develop a plan for staffing to comply with the 24/7 requirement.
Hassinger said the bigger issue will likely be training changes. While many training courses were available online before, he believes the new law puts a greater emphasis on classroom instruction, which is more difficult for volunteers to schedule.
"People have to work and support their families, and we don't hold that against them," Hassinger said.
Another element of the new law requires companies to use only certified drivers for the first time. That change will mean the loss of some drivers, or at least a delay while they become certified.
Still, Hassinger said the new rules will not deter his service from its mission.
"We're just going to keep doing things the way we've been doing them and adapt to the changes the best that we can," he said.
Mehmet Barzev, operations manager for the West End Community Ambulance, said the paid company will not be too affected by the change, beyond perhaps in training.
"From my point of view, it's a positive change," he said. "It's a step in improving emergency medical services."
Richard Gibbons,director of the Bureau of EMS at the state Department of Health, said the 24/7 staffing plan requirement is a fairly significant change. But the goal is not penalties.
"We're going to work with those agencies that we identify as having problems so that they will work within the larger scope of the system," he said.
Local EMS councils will also work with 911 dispatch centers and companies to collect and review whether agencies are dropping calls, he said.
A call is dropped — or "scratched" — if an agency does not respond to the first or second tone out and minutes pass.
But often, Gibbons said, the records on dropped calls are only available from dispatch centers, as an agency does not produce a report if it does not respond to a call, and the centers are not compelled to turn them over.
"It is challenging," Gibbons said.
Going forward in implementing the law and the new changes, Gibbons said the department and councils will continue to understand the challenges of smaller agencies.
"We get that, we just want to work for them to plan for that response, so that the patient, at the end of the day, gets the best care," he said.