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Staffing problems will be solved when EMS finds its identity

EMS must either master all of health care, or carve a niche to gain professional recognition and financial stability


In a somewhat ironic twist, two recent stories on opposite geographical ends of the EMS spectrum address failed attempts to deal with staffing issues.

In rural Minnesota, lawmakers have approved a $500 annual stipend to help recruit volunteers. And in urban San Francisco, the city is seeking more medics and ambulances to meet 911 needs.

Unfortunately, both have proposed solutions that have failed in other areas of the country. Stipends for volunteers have not been able to recruit and retain staffing levels, while restricting an EMS budget within a traditional department will destine that system to perform in a substandard way.

These are temporary solutions to the serious issues surrounding EMS identity and mission. Despite the educational and vocational developments to prepare today’s EMS providers, the systems in which they work often feel firmly stuck in the past.

People can no longer spend hundreds of hours a year helping out their community, and organizations that don’t realize this and adapt will perish. The bottom line is this: field care has changed. It will continue to do so, as reimbursements dwindle and governments struggle to justify taxes and special assessments.

EMS needs to find its identity. At the nexus of health care, community health and public safety, it must either be the master of all in order to be successful, or carve a niche within those three intersecting spheres.

Without identity, there is no uniformity and no recognition on both a professional and financial level. It’s anyone’s guess as to where will we end up.

I’m very tired of feeling like our work keeps getting kicked to the curb, and is somehow less important than other public safety or health care professions. At least I can take comfort in knowing that others feel the same. But that is not enough.

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