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Lessons Learned from Washington

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Politicians don’t understand the EMS world and the EMS community doesn’t do enough to teach officials why the field matters, according to paramedic Gregg Margolis.


“I don’t think we’ve made it terribly easy for them to help us,” Margolis told attendees at EMS Today in Baltimore. “And I do believe that some education of our elected officials would serve society well.”


Margolis has a good perspective on how the two worlds work. He’s describes himself as an “EMS guy,” but he’s had a unique experience that bridged politics and emergency medical services. Margolis was the first ever paramedic to get a Robert Wood Johnson Health Policy Fellowship, which sent him into the belly of politics for a year working for West Virginia Sen. John (Jay) Rockefeller IV (D-WV).


The fellowship gave Margolis an inside view of the political process.


In fact, he went in a self-described cynic, but came out with a new-found appreciation for the process of law making. His time in Washington coincided with the President’s healthcare reform process.


“I think by and large our elected officials don’t understand very much about our profession,” he told attendees at EMS Today. “And I think by and large they like us, they just don’t know what they like. And by and large, they want to help us.”


Before landing the fellowship, Margolis worked as a paramedic in Pittsburgh, was later the associate director of the NREMT, and also worked at George Washington University.


Margolis says events like EMS Day in Washington are a start, but also noted that every day there are multiple groups making the rounds of their elected officials. It can’t be the only aspect of the educational process, though.


“The key is sending a clear, unified, singular message about what it is,” he said. “Elected officials generally want to help. But when they faced with lots conflicting information they don’t know how to help.


“The most effective way to for helping elected officials help is to send a clear message and resolve those differences before you go into the office,” Margolis added.


To that end, state and local elected officials may be more important to the EMS community than those on the federal level, he said.


“I also believe that EMS has the ability to address some of the nation’s vexing health care problems in terms of cost, quality access, and that we have an opportunity of an EMS profession to contribute significantly overall to the communities we serve and to start thinking of ways to deliver EMS in innovative ways and thinking about the regulatory or legislative things that we need to do to make those things possible,” he said. “It will not be easy, but it certainly is something that is achievable.”

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