The EMS Bill of Rights

The EMS Bill of Rights

Jun 22, 2017

There has been a lot of buzz over the past week about California’s EMS Bill of Rights.  Dave Konig has a great take on it over at The Social Medic that I encourage you to read.  American Medical Response has even launched a counter campaign to it complete with the hashtag #LivesBeforeLunch.  While that makes me cringe a bit, I want to touch on one line of AMR’s response to the bill that stuck with me.

“As written, AB 263 is an unprecedented political power grab, and will heavily penalize private – but not public – employers of EMTs and paramedics.”

When I look back at my career with AMR that spanned more than twelve years, I had a lot of ups and downs.  Had busy shifts and I had slow shifts.  I found myself mandated to work despite being sick, or just needing a day off.  Through the highlights and the lowlights of working in a busy 9-1-1 system that amassed roughly 40,000 calls per year, the instances where my 12 hour shifts hit double digits were rare when compared overall to my full body of work.

I have friends who work in the “public” sector in some of the busiest EMS systems in the country.  One who works in a fire-based EMS system routinely does more than 20 calls in a shift.  In fact, the overwhelming majority of medic units in their system far surpass the volume run by their busiest suppression pieces, and you know what the response from some of his coworkers on the suppression side is?  “I know I occasionally get a full night’s sleep while you are out running, but you chose your career and I chose mine.”  They are under represented by their union and are the medics who really need protecting, not the EMS based paramedics and EMTs of the private sector, yet that is who this bill is targeted as.

In all my years involved in EMS, AMR has never hidden what it is.  They are a for profit company.  They are a place for EMTs and paramedics to find a job, and rarely a career.  The higher that you go on the food chain, the farther you stick your neck out there.  That was one of the reasons, professionally, that I decided to move on.  Is my assessment of AMR harsh?  Probably.  But is it accurate?  Sure!  I knew that when I walked in the door back in 2000, and I knew that when I left in 2012.  They are there to run a business, and they are pretty damn good at it.  That is why they are one of the few ambulance companies in the country who has been in business for so long.

But at least they are willing to admit what they are.  At least they do not try and paint a rosier picture for those looking for a place to work, only to beat down 20% of the workforce with 80% of the run volume like my friend’s system routinely does to he and his EMS based coworkers.  And by the way, don’t be fooled by those who try and label private EMS as “for profit” EMS.  If your system collects billing information, it doing it for profit.  The money might be going into a general fund for the municipality or better yet, back into the system, but the longevity of the system is resting on the back of those who utilize the service.

The EMS Bill of Rights is trying to address the workload that private providers are tasked with.  It does little for the mental health and well-being of those it represents, and as Dave Konig touches on, it does nothing for establishing a living wage for the EMTs and paramedics of California.

This time, I am with AMR.  If people want to work in a slower system, that opportunity is out there for them, they just have to look for it.  That is one of the beautiful things about our field.  If you don’t like what you do, where you do it, or who you do it for, you can find someplace else that could be a better match for you.