Legislation to support EMS takes a step forward

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Contributed photo. State Sen. Michelle Hinchey, D-41, speaks on the Senate floor before passage of the EMS bills.

By Doug LaRocque

NYVT Media

ALBANY – For years, rescue squads around upstate New York have been pushing their state representatives to change the landscape for EMS. That push gained the support of lawmakers on both sides of the political aisle when the New York State Senate approved a package of legislation that addresses several key challenges facing EMS providers.

The bills create three new reimbursement resources, would expand the ability of ground-based ambulance services to administer life-saving blood transfusions, and would deem EMS an essential service. This last of the three components has a far-reaching impact in that it requires all municipalities to provide their constituents with an ambulance service, just as they currently must do with fire service.

This does not mean each town or city has to have their own agency. It can be a cooperative effort with other localities, but it would have to be formalized, not just a “handshake agreement.”

Washington County’s Town of Hampton Supervisor Dave O’Brien likes the legislation. His town is one of the smallest population-wise in the county and does not currently have nor can afford its own ambulance squad.

Hampton currently relies primarily on the Skenesborough Rescue Squad in Whitehall for ambulance coverage, for which the town makes an annual “donation” to the organization.

O’Brien says if this legislation becomes law, they will have to actually negotiate a contract.

“This is not a bad thing,” he said.

O’Brien feels it will spur more consolidation efforts and eventually force the county to become more involved as well.

State Sen. Michelle Hinchey, D-41, was one of the legislation’s prime sponsors.

“EMS is a pillar of our health care system, especially for New Yorkers living in rural and medically underserved communities where a drive to the hospital could take upwards of an hour,” Hinchey said.

She added that local EMS providers are in a crisis.

“They face severe challenges from inadequate reimbursement to onerous rules that prevent them from delivering life-saving care, like blood transfusions, all while the demand for their services increases,” she said.

Hinchey is hopeful the legislation will also pass the Assembly before the session ends.

The Assembly has already acted on the blood transfusion component of the legislation, approving two bills co-sponsored by Assemblywoman Carrie Woerner, D-113.

The assemblywoman said the bills provide that ambulance services and advanced life support first responders may store and distribute blood so as to initiate and administer transfusions.

Woerner said as it stands right now, “New Yorkers experiencing a severe illness or trauma, such as a life-threatening car accident, are not able to receive blood until they arrive at a hospital, unless they are transported by an air ambulance.”

She added that in these cases, it makes sense to allow a transfusion in what could be a lifesaving window of time.

Increasing revenue sources

The bill sponsored by Hinchey would also allow EMS providers to receive Medicaid reimbursement for treating patients at the scene of an injury, transporting to approved health care destinations, such as a mental health facility or an urgent care facility, and facilitating a connection to a doctor via telemedicine.

Currently, volunteer firefighters and ambulance workers may be eligible for a personal income tax credit of $200. If passed by the Assembly and signed by Gov. Kathy Hochul, the legislation would increase that amount to $800. It is meant to entice more people to become first responders.

As of press time, it is unknown if the Assembly will act on the legislation. Updates will be posted on www.nyvtmedia.com