What being “essential” means

Author: Tim Nowak


Being essential is not a golden ticket.

It’s also not a silver bullet.

At best, it’s an unfunded mandate, but that’s the start that many EMS agencies need in order to begin getting the recognition and funding they deserve.

Being classified as an “essential service” through state legislation provides a false sense of understanding by many within the EMS industry. It does not guarantee more funding, it does not guarantee better reimbursement, and it does not guarantee better staffing. All that it guarantees is that at some form of municipal level (e.g., town, city, county), we exist.

Optimistically, being titled as “essential” is a way of getting our foot in the door with regards to garnering the attention (and hopeful financial support) that our industry deserves. It puts ownership at the municipal level to guarantee the provision of emergency medical services and ambulance existence, but nothing to clarify how this service is provided or by whom.

A city of 100,000 residents could be staffed by one BLS ambulance and still fill the “essential” role (according to most legislative language). Furthermore, it is still up to each municipality to ante-up the financial support to adequately staff, oversee, and supplement each EMS agency in a way that they see fit, unless there’s more specific legislative or state rule language.

So, without bursting everyone’s bubble as it relates to this accomplishment (which it is a great starting accomplishment!), here are some next steps and considerations for all of us in the EMS industry to keep in mind:

  • What funding does your EMS agency need from its budgeted/contracted source(s) in order to operate in an “ideal” agency or staffing environment?
  • What is your agency’s plan if no funding changes (increases) are made to support your agency in the future?
  • Are the leaders and citizens within the communities that you serve aware that ambulance services are not funded at the same level of support as other public safety or emergency service resources?
  • Is your current staffing model sufficient to maintain future operations? If not, have you communicated this to your communities?

There’s certainly more to come within the EMS industry – and likely within the next 3-5 years! Just like everything else that costs money to maintain, the big question is “how long are you able and willing to maintain your department and/or agenecy without the support that you need to properly do so?”

If your EMS agency needs help focusing on sustaining its operations, please schedule some 1-on-1 time with us to chat!

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Posted by Rachel Ray

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