When you hear all the noise coming from Capitol Hill, do you ever wonder whether lawmakers have any clue about what you do every day? Do they know what they could do to make prehospital care better for citizens? Do they consider how legislation affects your working conditions and pay?
If you could get into their offices for an hour, you could probably give them an earful.
The National Association of Emergency Medical Technicians (NAEMT) is giving some EMTs and paramedics that opportunity tomorrow with its EMS on the Hill Day. During this event, which NAEMT plans to make annual, EMS providers from across the country are scheduled to meet with members of Congress in their offices.
"I want to attend EMS on the Hill Day because I have a deep passion for our profession and feel that it is important to make sure that it is included in the lawmaking process," David Carle, AAS, AH, EMT-P, from Unicoi, Tenn., said in an NAEMT press release.
Carle is one of four EMS providers who received a $1,200 from NAEMT to subsidize their travel and lodging expenses. The other three winners are Kenneth M. Erikson, EMT-P, from Horsham, Pa.; Brad Gronke, MS, EMT, from Brookfield, Ill.; and Kenneth Hockett, EMT-P, from Tuolumne, Calif.
"This grant gives me the opportunity to be a part of the safeguarding and advancement of my profession at a level I could not otherwise do on my own," Carle said.
The EMS on the Hill Day event is planned to include representation from EMS organizations in all sectors of the EMS community, provide a consistent message to Congress on the key issues affecting EMS and EMS practitioners, and encourage and promote broad participation within the EMS community, according to the NAEMT Web site.
NAEMT Director at Large Chuck Kearns says, "The board has wanted to do this for years. It's been on the table for a while."
EMS providers who registered for the event will attend an evening briefing tonight. At that meeting they'll get Hill Visit Kits, appointment schedules and tips on Congressional decorum. Kearns urges wearing dress uniforms. He says he has seen on more than one occasion that a uniform changes the perception of the wearer. "Ten people in suits may be standing in front of an office. Someone in a uniform walks right in," he says.
NAEMT staff members set up morning and afternoon appointments on May 4 with the appropriate Congressional offices as registrations came in. Although there's no guarantee senators and representatives will be available, staff member will meet with the visiting EMS personnel if necessary.
Kearns says in the past, one group of Florida EMTs and paramedics showed up at their congressman's office and found the legislator wasn't there. Congressional staff members made a phone call, and the legislator asked them to wait while he made his way through heavy traffic. After he arrived, they had his attention for an hour.
Kearns says in his experience, senators and representatives are generally receptive to hearing from their constituents and want to learn more from field providers. He says his visits have been educational and enjoyable.
Some of the key issues NAEMT will be promoting include permanent Medicare fee reimbursement, federal grants for EMS similar to the fire-service grants (with the same recognition for EMS education and training) and public safety officer death benefits for private ambulance company employees.
Hearing about the importance of these issues from real people, rather than reading reports, may affect lawmakers' future decisions. Personal stories are often more effective at helping someone unfamiliar with a situation better understand it. Because EMTs and paramedics live EMS every day and see events that never make it into reports, they are the best advocates for the industry. They may lose their impact when reduced to statistics.
"We want to ensure that we have a place in the recent healthcare reform action and public awareness, and that EMS funding, training and worker safety are considered. Without advocacy on a national level, our profession stands to fall through the cracks and cannot advance," Carle said.
After a day of spreading the word, the advocates are scheduled to attend a reception at the Hotel Palomar for all EMS on the Hill Day participants, congressional leaders and staff and federal agency staff.
"My hope for attending EMS on the Hill Day is that we can raise the awareness of our elected officials for what EMS does, how EMS benefits the community, and what EMS needs in order to continue being such a valuable resource that can be counted on both now and in the future," Hockett, a who works as paramedic for Manteca District Ambulance, which is part of Tuolumne County (Calif.)Ambulance, said in the statement.