Punishing Private EMS Providers Would Hurt Patients

Politicians are crazy.  A whacked out Democrat wants to force EMS personnel (emergency medical services) to take mandatory meal or break on a specified time.  So, while trying to save your life, they must stop and eat lunch.  Are they crazy or just immature?

“EMS personnel have a tough job. They deal with crisis situations that often challenge and sometimes horrify. They can be mobilized at a moment’s notice. Which makes it hard to plan for an uninterrupted meal or break.

So the California Assembly’s Labor Committee voted to require private EMS providers to set specific break and meal times for their workers. Assemblyman Freddie Rodriquez grandly called it the EMS Worker Bill of Rights.”

How about the rights of patients?  How about doing their job to save lives?  Which comes first, lunch or a needle with lifesaving drugs?  According to the Democrat, lunch comes first.

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 Punishing Private EMS Providers Would Hurt Patients 

Tom Hudson, President of Placer County Taxpayer Association

No good deed goes unpunished. That certainly appears to be the case in California where the legislature is considering a bill to regulate the breaks and meals taken by emergency medical service workers.

Most of us don’t think about EMS professionals until we need them. Then we want help and we want it instantly. Which is why it would be bad policy for Sacramento to restrict the flexibility of ambulance services to care for the rest of us.

EMS personnel have a tough job. They deal with crisis situations that often challenge and sometimes horrify. They can be mobilized at a moment’s notice. Which makes it hard to plan for an uninterrupted meal or break.

So the California Assembly’s Labor Committee voted to require private EMS providers to set specific break and meal times for their workers. Assemblyman Freddie Rodriquez grandly called it the EMS Worker Bill of Rights.

The idea might make sense if EMS providers controlled the timing of medical emergencies and thus were responsible when workers missed a break or meal. But companies no less than technicians are victims of circumstances and must deal with the unexpected.

Of course, employees should be compensated when a break or meal cannot be rescheduled on the same shift. And good companies, like American Medical Response, do so.

However, AMR notes that just six percent of its employees miss a meal. Responding to medical emergencies generally takes up 40 to 60 percent of the average crew’s shift. At other times technicians can sleep, watch a movie, or do other personal tasks.

That doesn’t minimize the inconvenience of missing a break or meal. But as its name suggests, EMS matters most during emergencies. If a person signs up, he or she acknowledges that there are circumstances—terrorist attack, tragic accident, medical crisis—to be treated as more important than keeping a schedule. Hence breaks and meals should be rescheduled.

The proposed law would allow rescheduling workers’ meals and breaks if employees go out on a call requiring sirens or lights. But in some emergency cases sirens and lights are not turned on lest they increase the chance of an accident. And some emergency diagnoses do not require use of sirens and lights. Worse, this provision would perversely discourage employees from using lights and sirens when it was appropriate to do so.

Other provisions are similarly excessive and even punitive. An hour of premium pay would be due EMS employees even if a break or meal was rescheduled during the shift. Companies thereby would be penalized even as they made employees whole. Pressure likely would build to pay all workers for an extra hour or two of work.

Many workers would in effect collect twice. They would be paid under their employment contract and then collect a bonus in the form of premium pay. In contrast, employers would have to either absorb the loss or raise prices, further fueling the explosion of medical costs and impact on patients or any of us, for that matter.

But the problems don’t stop there. The legislation would bar emergency services from controlling where workers take breaks and meals, allowing technicians to leave duty stations. This could delay response times by as much as a half hour, which could be the margin between life and death.

Unpredictable response times also could put companies in violation of their contracts. So firms likely would have to hire back-up employees. AMR estimates that compliance costs would run an extra $55 million annually. That would be yet another hit on companies that often operate on a tight margin.

Legislating breaks and meals would make it more difficult for the U.S. to respond to a major terrorist attack or weather disaster. Large-scale casualties would stretch resources, leaving little time for breaks and meals. Nevertheless, technicians would be entitled to time away even if there was no one else to take over patient care. California should not punish the very companies preparing to respond to dire circumstances. Despite the EMS campaign, public ambulance operators asked to be exempted from the legislation. So they were. However, regulation of EMS services shouldn’t be treated as yet another partisan football in Washington.

Emergency technicians are often almost invisible warriors, ignored until their services are desperately required. They should be treated fairly, out of respect for what they do and in appreciation for the good that they do.

But that doesn’t mean Sacramento should micromanage their activities, deciding who takes a break or meal, when and where. EMS technicians and companies should work out the issues themselves.

About Stephen Frank

Stephen Frank is the publisher and editor of California Political News and Views. He speaks all over California and appears as a guest on several radio shows each week. He has also served as a guest host on radio talk shows. He is a fulltime political consultant.