EMS bill would give ambulance crews more flexibility

A silver lining of the pandemic has been the action taken by Pennsylvania lawmakers to reconsider needless health care regulations. 

One bill that passed the House but awaits approval in the Senate would end staffing regulations for emergency responders, giving more flexibility to ambulance companies and helping them operate in rural areas.

HB2097, sponsored by Rep. Joe Hamm, R-Lycoming/Union, would make permanent a COVID-era waiver that loosened a law requiring ambulance crews to be staffed by two people, one an EMT and another at or above the same rank. With the change, ambulances could be crewed by an EMT and certified emergency personnel, such as firefighters.

“While changed with good intentions, coupled with staffing and volunteer shortages, funding challenges and growing coverage areas, these regulations have had dire consequences,” Hamm said in a legislative memo.

“Lives are being lost, especially in rural areas, because trained firefighters and other certified emergency response volunteers are not permitted to drive a vehicle without at least an EMR and an EMT or two EMTs on board,” Hamm said. “That needs to change today, and we have proof that it can be done safely.”

Unanimously passed in House

The bill passed unanimously in the House in April and was referred to the Senate Veteran Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee.

Staffing shortages, financial problems, and other issues have been a lingering problem across the commonwealth. A 2018 report from the Senate Resolution 6 Commission urged reforms to deal with a worsening problem.

“A mix of long-term stagnant and declining reimbursements, limited other financial support, and changes to our societal view of volunteerism have negatively impacted EMS throughout the state, leading to EMS agency failures and closures,” the report stated. 

“Taken together, the many tasks performed by a decreasing number of volunteers only exacerbates the problem and overwhelms those who remain active,” it continued.

Much of the report’s recommendations focused on how to improve volunteer recruitment and raise compensation for emergency responders, as well as reforming outdated or expensive regulations.

Pandemic-era health care waivers have granted more flexibility across health fields. The expansion of telehealth in the state, as The Center Square previously reported, expanded mental health access.