Proposals target resources for emergency responders
Two legislative efforts aim to add resources for paramedics and EMTs–including those dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder.
At least 243 first responders, including EMS workers, died by suicide in Pennsylvania last year, according to statistics provided at The House Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee Wednesday.
State lawmakers plan to revive a proposal to help paramedics and emergency responders deal with post-traumatic stress disorder.
Democratic state Representative Mike Schlossberg of Lehigh County said he and Republican Representative Frank Farry of Bucks County are re-introducing a bill that died in committee last fall.
It would double a key funding source for ambulance companies by upping a fee on speeding tickets and DUIs for the first time since 1985. The fee for speeding tickets would increase from $10 to $20, and the fee tied to DUI arrests would jump from $25 to $50.
The measure also adds resources for paramedics and EMTs to deal with traumatic events they see on the job, Schlossberg said. It would require that at least $250,000 of those funds went to a mental wellness and stress management program.
Schlossberg said it’s also vital to change the culture around post-traumatic stress so that first responders feel comfortable talking about their experiences.
“A big chunk of it is funding related, but another huge chunk is stigma,” he said. “They’re worried about how will it affect their family and their friends. They’re worreid about how will it affect their job.”
Schlossberg also voiced support for a separate proposal from across the aisle, which was discussed at the hearing. Republican state Representative Steve Barrar of Delaware and Chester counties is co-sponsoring HB 243, a plan to let first responders receive workers’ compensation for post-traumatic stress disorder.
First responders are exposed to traumatic events on par with what police may see, and they aren’t getting enough support, Barrar said.
“Our goal is to make sure these men and women are getting the treatment they need,” Barrar said.
The health insurance industry has voiced criticisms of the proposal at the hearing, saying it would drive up costs. Barrar said he hopes to work with the industry to find common ground.
“First responders witness people and their families as they experience the worst moments of their lives and this can trigger mental health problems,” he wrote in the proposal’s summary. “Other times, work-related psychological conditions result from cumulative exposure to trauma. Post-traumatic injuries cause real harm that we need to recognize and we need to use the workers’ compensation system to assist our first responders in addressing that trauma.”
Almost every paramedic or EMT has seen something traumatic, said Susquehanna Township EMS Director Matt Baily.
“I unfortunately had to respond to the traumatic deaths of three small children,” Baily said. “It was involving a motor vehicle accident. It was something that people shouldn’t be subjected to but unfortunately that’s the nature of the business that we do.”
Baily said ambulance crews and EMS companies have been clamoring for the increase for the funding increase for decades. He noted, most EMS companies in Pennsylvania are small nonprofits that receive little or no taxpayer help. Every time an ambulance leaves the station, it can cost $500 or more in personnel and resources that isn’t always recouped.
He pointed to Senate Resolution 6 of 2018 as a recent turning point for public awareness on this issue. While he supports both legislative efforts, he said the funding increase from tickets would be an essential part of making those plans happen.
“That affects us really substantially,” Baily said.