Insider Advantage: EMS reform is a matter of life and death. Just ask these families.

Insider Advantage: EMS reform is a matter of life and death. Just ask these families.

EMS reform is a matter of life and death. Just ask these families.

By Julianne Thompson
Insider Advantage
Nov. 7, 2019

No new rule or regulation can bring back Donna Martin or Jason Brady; two lives among many, cut short as the result of substandard emergency medical care.

But new reforms being considered by the Georgia Department of Public Health could at least restore the faith and confidence of their families in our state.

Donna and Jason didn’t have much in common, but they were fiercely loved. Above all, their stories illustrate the profound consequences of the state neglecting its duty to ensure quality emergency medical services.

Their needless deaths set their two families on parallel journeys to find the truth, but instead found themselves stifled continuously by a system that protects incumbents at the expense of transparency and accountability.

Soon, that could change.

The Department of Public Health has been debating a series of new rules recently to reform how it administers and regulates emergency medical services, in part because of stories like Donna and Jason’s.

It adopted, these rules would give grieving families like theirs some hope at long last that policymakers understand the absolute imperative to reform the status quo.

Under the status quo today, unelected EMS councils that make life and death decisions about ambulance service providers are allowed to skirt the state’s Open Meetings statute. Sunlight, as they say, is the best disinfectant, but these meetings happen almost exclusively in the shadows. In practice, it means they can conduct business without meaningful public oversight.

They’re also allowed to dodge even the basic ethics practices, like requiring voting members to abstain from decisions that could be affected by personal or professional conflicts.

This isn’t rocket science. It’s common sense. Fortunately, those glaring oversights would be corrected under the new DPH framework.

It’s a start, and a good one for which victims and their families are grateful, but not enough. Despite the good-faith intentions of this proposal, its scope is just too narrow and therefore doesn’t do enough to correct past abuses.

Instead, a more fulsome approach would require service provider reviews and mandate the disclosure of ethics statements. Taxpayers deserve to know what they’re paying for and whether providers are meeting critical safety and technology benchmarks. They also deserve to know who’s making these decisions and why.

Of course, the proposal’s scope and aim have evolved over this process—but not always for the better. In a draft backed by the state EMS Advisory Council, the number of seats any single entity could occupy on EMS councils would have been capped. Mysteriously, that vital provision, which would have limited the influence of bad actors, was scrubbed. No one understands why it was removed, but it must be restored.

Still, the framework as proposed represents a positive and crucial shift for the industry and those who regulate it. It’s an excellent first step and it’s what Donna and Jason deserve.

That’s really what’s at stake in this proposal: the lives and welfare of real Georgians, beloved grandmothers and brothers like Donna Martin and Jason Brady—not abstract notions of transparency and accountability.

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