Minn. paramedic medicine bill close to becoming law

The bill takes away liability for emergency personnel who administer complex medicine to individuals who require them


Trey Mewes
The Free Press, Mankato, Minn.

ST. PAUL, Minn. — A three-year local effort to change state law concerning emergency personnel liability is just a vote away from becoming law.

The measure was introduced after Curtis and Deann Johnson of Courtland approached lawmakers in 2016 to allow emergency responders to treat their 9-year-old daughter, Bailey, in case she's ever in crisis. Responders can give simple medicine such as an Epipen, but only doctors can administer more complex medicine because of legal liability issues.

Lawmakers unanimously support changing the law. Though the House passed a standalone version of the bill in March, the Senate chose to include it in an omnibus health and human service proposal. Sen. Nick Frentz, DFL-North Mankato, is a co-sponsor of the paramedic bill and asked Senate GOP leaders to remove it from the omnibus legislation last week.

The two versions differ slightly, but the Senate has already matched its version to language in the House bill. The House needs to repass the bill once more for it to go to Gov. Tim Walz's desk, which could happen as soon as Tuesday.

"Oh my God, I'm just shaking," Deann Johnson said Saturday.

The bill takes away liability for emergency personnel who administer complex medicine. Major ambulance providers already have plans for emergency personnel to administer some complex medicine, but rural providers in Greater Minnesota are still concerned about liability issues.

In essence, it would allow responders to help people like Bailey. She has a rare disorder called congenital adrenal hyperplasia, which means her glands lack the necessary parts to produce hormones that regulate body functions such as her metabolism and immune system.

Even though she carries around her own medicine, legal liability issues have prevented her from getting help in the past.

Emergency personnel often work under a physician's license, which means the physician or ambulance service could be held liable if an emergency responder makes an error by giving patients the wrong kind of medicine.

That's what Deann and Curtis found out when Bailey was close to having an adrenal crisis in the summer of 2016 at an outdoor festival. Though the Johnsons have made many preparations in case Bailey ever has a medical issue — Bailey carries around medicine, and the Johnsons have worked with local firefighters and school officials on her medical plans — they realized Bailey's life could be in danger if she was far away from home.

Former Rep. Clark Johnson and Frentz tried to pass a law in 2017 to solve the problem but ran into language issues with medical industry lobbyists. They reintroduced another bill last year that garnered bipartisan support, as Sen. Torrey Westrom, R-Elbow Lake, carried the bill in the Senate.

Westrom stepped forward after hearing about similar concerns from a family in his district.

Despite support from lawmakers and medical professionals, the bill was put into the $1 billion omnibus budget bill that Gov. Mark Dayton vetoed last year due to disagreements on other issues with Republicans.

The Johnsons were concerned their bill would suffer a similar fate this year once the Senate rolled it into an omnibus proposal.

"My heart just sank," Deann Johnson said. "We had just kind of resigned ourselves to waiting another year."

Yet they were giddy once they heard the news Saturday. Deann said Bailey has already asked her parents if this means she can ride the bus to school with other kids instead of getting rides due to her condition.

Bailey is far from the only Minnesotan affected by the likely changes. More than 400 rare diseases could be covered under the bill and more families have contacted lawmakers to share their own stories.

Frentz said Saturday he spoke with a family from St. Cloud who were up at the Capitol last week to urge lawmakers to pass the bill.

"There's obviously more families out there and it just makes you feel better yet about getting this done," Frentz said.

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©2019 The Free Press (Mankato, Minn.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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