In a robust job market, ambulance services nationwide are facing a staffing shortage and struggling to attract EMT and paramedic candidates.

Last month, a bill addressing EMT certification for veterans and military medics was endorsed by the Joint Committee on Veterans and Federal Affairs. The bill (H. 3237), supported by the MMA, would allow the Department of Public Health to issue waivers to veterans or military medics applying for EMT certification if they have completed substantially equivalent emergency training with the U.S. Armed Forces.

The bill would also require DPH to adopt regulations establishing criteria for determining the extent to which the education and training are substantially equivalent to that for Massachusetts-certified EMTs.

The EMT shortage is apparent around the state. In North Adams, ambulance transport times increased significantly after the North Adams Regional Hospital closed in 2014, from a matter of minutes to 20 minutes or more to get to the Berkshire Medical Center in Pittsfield. Even after the hospital opened a satellite facility in North Adams, transportation to other facilities is still needed for higher-level emergency services. The regional hospital closure stresses emergency medical services in the area because local ambulances are often out on transfers rather than being available for medical calls. Local officials say it would help if more EMTs were available.

North Adams City Councillor Jason LaForest, who works as a nurse, says H. 3237 “would provide the dual benefit of fast-tracking employment for military veterans that worked as medics, and alleviating the shortage of EMTs around the state.”

LaForest said the wait for an ambulance can put a patient in jeopardy of missing the “golden hour” for assessment of catastrophic illnesses, like heart attacks and strokes. If appropriate action is taken within the first hour after the onset of a heart attack, the risk of damage can be greatly reduced.

The shortage of EMTs and paramedics in recent years, particularly in rural areas, is due in part to prohibitive certification costs, which can exceed $1,000 for EMTs and be well into the thousands for paramedic training. For fire departments hiring EMTs and paramedics, removing a barrier to entry for veterans or military medics could help to address the staffing shortage and ensure the availability of transports for patients requiring critical care services.

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