My turn: Prop. 11 will ensure reliable emergency response
When patients call 911, they are depending on first responders to arrive quickly and provide lifesaving medical care. Their quick response can be the difference between life and death.
As the former director of the Los Angeles County Emergency Medical Services Agency, the largest EMS system in the state, and a retired emergency room nurse, I am concerned about a threat posed by special interests and trial attorneys to the state’s emergency health care system that could put patient care at risk.
That’s why I support Proposition 11 on the Nov. 6 ballot. It’s a commonsense solution that will ensure when a patient calls 911, the closest ambulance can respond.
Today, private emergency medical technicians and paramedics are paid to be reachable during their work breaks in case of a nearby emergency, just like firefighters, police officers and public EMTs and paramedics. This has been standard practice for the last 50 years.
But that could change. Because of lawsuits filed by trial attorneys, the California Supreme Court could rule within months that private, but not public, ambulance crews are no longer allowed to remain on-call during work breaks.
This means if the closest ambulance crew to an emergency is on break, 911 dispatchers would have no way to reach them because California law would require all communications devices to be turned off. There would be no exceptions, not even for a natural disaster.
In rural areas, ambulances can be spread out by 30 minutes and life flight helicopter crews are stationed regionally. If dispatchers are forced to send a crew that is farther away, the patient might not survive.
Private EMTs and paramedics respond to 75 percent of the state’s 911 medical calls so the impact on California’s health care system could be devastating.
Further, public emergency medical technicians and paramedics, who are also paid to remain on-call during breaks, would be exempt under California law. Proposition 11 would simply grant the same protections for private emergency services that public emergency services already receive to ensure an ambulance will not be delayed when you need help.
Proposition 11 will continue the current practice of paying private ambulance crews to be reachable during breaks so the closest ambulance can respond.
In an emergency, minutes matter. For patients suffering from a cardiac arrest, every minute that passes without CPR or a defibrillator can decrease their chances of survival by 7-10 percent.
Additionally, Proposition 11 includes several workplace protections for private ambulance crews to ensure they aren’t overworked:
- Private EMTs and paramedics would continue receiving extra pay if a break is missed and cannot be rescheduled.
- Employers would be required to space out meal breaks so ambulance crews can rest.
- Ambulance companies must maintain adequate staffing levels so they can provide coverage for breaks.
Proposition 11 is a sensible solution to keep California’s emergency medical care reliable and ensure that an ambulance will be there when it’s needed most, and deserves a yes vote.
Carol Meyer is a registered nurse, former director of Los Angeles County’s Emergency Medical Services Agency, and a consultant to emergency ambulance providers, [email protected]. She wrote this commentary for CALmatters.
My turn: Proposition 11 threatens your safety
Proposition 11 is a cynical example of the abuse of California’s initiative process by a for-profit corporation, American Medical Response.
I’ll tell you more about why Proposition 11 is bad for California. But first, I want to explain a little bit about the life of an emergency medical services provider, or EMT. We’re the last people you want to see in your day. But when we do show up, you want us to be our best. Life hangs in the balance.
In an emergency, every moment counts. As an emergency medical services provider, I lived this mantra. I’ve also had the privilege to see seen first-hand how dedicated and professional our responders are.
Our emergency medical technicians and paramedics maintain multiple professional certifications, attend yearly continuing education, and participate in anti-terrorism and multi-casualty drills and teach in regional emergency medical services schools.
Being employed as a paramedic is a tough job. We work 12-hour shifts with low pay, frequently without breaks, and work in some of the most traumatic of environments.
UC Berkeley research has shown that in 2014, more than a third of the emergency medical technicians and paramedics in California were considered low-wage workers, earning less than $13.63 an hour, and it hasn’t changed much today.
The emergency medical services profession is known to cause significant physical and mental strain on its workforce. According to the Journal of Emergency Medical Services in 2015, first responders are 10 times more likely to attempt suicide than the general public.
Unfortunately, the existing mental health counseling through employee assistance programs often times are not designed to provide the critical incident and stress management therapy that my coworkers are in dire need of.
The private ambulance company, American Medical Response, would like you to believe that if you approve Proposition 11, there will be an increase in these services. Mental health care services definitely are needed. But that’s not what this initiative is about.
It’s about giving one corporation funding Proposition 11 the power to exempt itself from state law as it exists in order to protect itself from potential damages incurred from violating their employee’s rights.
Currently, state law requires that employees working 12-hour shifts are eligible to take a 30-minute break every 5- 6 hours, separated from our work.
Unpaid meal periods must meet certain requirements or else they are considered an on-duty meal period, which is counted as time worked and then the employee must be paid.
Since we do not have designated rest and meal spaces, you see us taking our breaks on street corners, in a restaurant, or in our ambulances, all the while listening to our radios for an emergency.
When we are dispatched for an emergency, we’re legally entitled to receive compensation for the interruption. However, American Medical Response wants to avoid properly compensating its workers for their on-duty meal and rest periods.
In other words, this initiative seeks to allow one private ambulance company to abuse the initiative process and taxpayer dollars to let themselves off the hook for violating the rights of its employees.
At the end of the day, it’s clear that the only thing Proposition 11 really does is to protect AMR’s bottom line, at the expense of emergency medical services workers and, ultimately, you. Please reject this cynical initiative. It threatens your safety.
Jeff Misner worked as a paramedic for 10 years and is a labor relations representative for American Federal of State, County & Municipal Employees, Local 4911, in San Jose, [email protected] He wrote this commentary for CALmatters.