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Background checks supported, so let's make it happen

If the state's projected budget for 2013 doesn't have enough wiggle room, then perhaps individual volunteers could pick up some of the cost

Editor's note: The president of the New Jersey State First Aid Council, an 83-year-old nonprofit representing more than 20,000 EMS volunteers affiliated with more than 300 first aid and rescue squads throughout the state, responds to the issue of requiring criminal background checks for responders.

When I received this earlier this week, I was pleased to see that the association that represents N.J.'s volunteer EMS providers is on record as supporting background checks. It would be a fool's errand not to support a method to determine whether the stranger who enters your home to provide emergency care is someone you can trust with your life.

This level of advocacy could be made even stronger by offering recommendations to the state on restoring a meager $1.2 million back to the training budget for the volunteers or by pressuring government to increase resources for criminal background checks, whether through the state or through private organizations.

It seems rather easy to argue that the benefit seems clear: Not paying 20,000 volunteers minimum wage to provide life-saving services could be saving the state's citizens $160 million* in payroll costs annually.

If the state's projected $32.1 billion spending budget for 2013 doesn't have 0.00375 percent wiggle room, then perhaps the First Aid Council would consider that individual volunteers could pick up some of the cost.

I'm not absolutely sure, but I think most of us in other parts of the country pay for our own background checks, both career and volunteer. We don't have anything to hide, and even if we've made a mistake that was criminal, we can show how we've paid our debt to society. Just being convicted of crime doesn't necessarily keep you from this job automatically. 

So I applaud the Association's endorsement of background checks for its members. Let's figure out how to make it happen so that the patient can have explicit trust and confidence in the responders he or she calls during a medical emergency.

*Just for fun I multiplied the 20,000 personnel by a guesstimate of 20 hours of volunteered time over 50 weeks, and "paid" each person $8 per hour.


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