HARRISBURG – With fire and ambulance services continuing to struggle locally and across the Commonwealth, a 39-member commission that included lawmakers and representatives of statewide fire and EMS organizations released a detailed report and recommendations for action at the Capitol this week, said Rep. Martin Causer (R-Turtlepoint).
The commission, established under Senate Resolution 6 of 2017, was formed to follow up and expand upon prior recommendations to address the growing challenges facing first responders and the communities that rely upon them.
“Volunteerism continues to decline; access to affordable training is limited, especially in rural areas; and the cost of delivering emergency services far exceeds the local support or insurance reimbursements provided,” Causer said.
“We all assume help will be available when we call 9-1-1, but it won’t be if we don’t do something to address these challenges.”
The General Assembly took two major steps forward in the effort to boost financial support for EMS agencies earlier this year.
In June, lawmakers implemented Causer’s proposal to increase Medicaid reimbursements for Basic Life Support and Advanced Life Support services as part of the 2018-19 state budget.
The increased reimbursements take effect Jan. 1. In October, they passed a new law to require both private insurers and Medicaid to reimburse for treatment provided regardless of whether transport takes place.
“With the passage of these new laws and this week’s release of additional recommendations, I am hopeful we can keep the momentum going in the new session and take the steps necessary to ensure our fire and ambulance services can continue to serve our communities,” Causer said.
The report includes 92 concepts incorporated into 27 recommendations to address challenges in the fire and EMS communities, with most of them focused on staffing, funding and training needs.
For example, the first recommendation to “expand, modernize and incentivize recruitment and retention efforts” includes nearly two dozen concepts for consideration.
Some would require legislative action, such as expanding volunteer tax credits or offering a college loan forgiveness program, while others could be addressed by the fire and EMS community with assistance from the state, such as development of a statewide recruiting tool, educating local officials about fire and EMS needs and development of recruitment and retention plans.
The report aims to address training access by recommending the inclusion of public safety programs as a trade/career preparatory program at career and technical education centers across the state and restore funding for public safety training courses at community colleges.
Other recommendations include funding basic fire and EMS training at the Commonwealth level and offering incentives to employers to permit trainees to attend fire and EMS training.
Legislation to address recommendations in the report is expected to be introduced in the upcoming 2019-20 Legislative Session.