Congressman Markwayne Mullin (OK-02) and Congressman Andy Kim (NJ-03), along with Reps. Cindy Axne (IA-03), Mike Carey (OH-15), Al Lawson (FL-05), Bruce Westerman (AR-04), and Marc Veasey (TX-33) recently introduced the Supporting Our First Responders Act. This bill creates a new grant program under the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) which would help emergency medical services (EMS) agencies with hiring and retention of qualified staff, training reimbursements, facility upgrades, and more.
"In rural Oklahoma, our EMS providers are often the difference between life and death, and ours are in a crisis," Mullin said. "Oklahomans cannot simply live without these safety net providers. And with no current federal funding stream for EMS, despite these heroes working day-in on the frontlines, our communities are abandoned. I am proud to support this bill to ensure those in Oklahoma continue to have access to high-quality health care."
There are many issues facing the EMS industry today. The pressures of the pandemic and ongoing opioid and mental health epidemics, combined with low pay and poor benefits, have contributed to an overall 30% turnover rate of full and part-time EMTs and paramedics across the country.
These staffing shortages, combined with skyrocketing costs to purchase equipment and fuel, are forcing EMS agencies to make difficult decisions including whether to reduce or even cease operations, especially in rural America where the costs of providing services are much higher. As more agencies shut down, remaining agencies are required to cover larger areas, leaving families without immediate assistance in their greatest moment of need when timing can mean life or death.
Oklahoma is one of 37 states that does not classify EMS as an essential service. That means local governments are not required to provide these services at all. Unlike firefighting and police, EMS units do not have wide access to federal and state funding.
The Supporting Our First Responders Act is endorsed by the National Association of EMTs (NAEMT) and the American Ambulance Association (AAA).
"Communities across the country are struggling to keep their ambulance services operating because of the crisis level workforce shortage," said Bruce Evans, President of the National Association of EMTs (NAEMT). "Many services have had to close. We appreciate Congressman Kim and other Members of Congress working to address this crisis."
"EMS organizations across the U.S. are struggling to hire paramedics and EMTs, and cover the increasing cost of equipment and supplies," said Shawn Baird, President of the American Ambulance Association. "The Supporting Our First Responders Act by Congressman Kim, Congressman Mullin, Congresswoman Axne, Congressman Veasey, Congressman Lawson, Congressman Westerman, and Congressman Carey recognizes the vital role that all ground ambulance service organizations play as medical first responders and would provide a critical down payment to grantees to help ensure their communities have access to vital EMS resources"