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Background checks — an invasion of privacy?

Editor's note: A bill in New Mexico that would require background checks on all responders moved ahead this week. If passed, would his law keep the public safe, or infringe on the privacy rights of medics? Find out what Editorial Advisor Art Hsieh thinks and give us your opinion in the member comments.

This brief story about mandatory background checks on EMS personnel serves as a reminder that we are considered part of public safety shield, regardless of whether we work for a private provider, volunteer squad or municipality.

New Mexico's SB 116 requires that its EMTs and paramedics be fingerprinted and have their backgrounds checked for criminal records. It makes sense that this happens: like police officers and firefighters we are given the privilege of accessing the home and personal belongings of citizens who are experiencing a medical emergency.

In California, it wasn't too long ago that an EMT with a criminal background could simply "shop around" to find a local EMS agency (LEMSA), that did not perform background checks, and become certified in that county to practice.

LEMSA could not share their information easily, and the resulting gaps allowed folks with serious criminal backgrounds access to the privacy of patients. Through a lot of hard work, the state went through a process that consolidated background checks on all EMTs at the state level, and created a registry that will eventually contain all certified EMTs in the state. California paramedics have been state licensed for nearly 20 years and there have been background checks for them pretty much since then.

Some may see this as an invasion of privacy; I think it's the right thing to do. I'm sure a process will be worked out that will allow certain criminal convictions to be worked out on a case-by-case basis; we do live in a country that believes that a person can repay his or her debt to society. But this will go a long way in strengthening the trust the public affords to its emergency medical personnel.

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