Sweeping changes to the way that EMS first responders compile and transmit their recorded data is on the horizon, but some are asking, who will pay the bill?
According to legislation sponsored by state Sen. Joseph Vitale (D-19), and Assemblymen Declan O’Scanlon (R-13) and Herb Conaway (D-7), the law will establish new data reporting requirements that all emergency medical service squads must adhere to. There is no current requirement in New Jersey that mandates EMS service data reporting to a state agency, O’Scanlon said.
“Legislators like to think everything is life and death, which is almost never true,” said O’Scanlon, “but this is one of those where it really is.”
Introduced on June 1, the bill would make the state Department of Health the supervisor of information recorded statewide by squads through the National Emergency Medical Services Information System (NEMSIS) database.
The bill calls for recording seven tiers of information: the date, time and location of an encounter; what the medical emergency is, including the number of people and their condition(s); any treatments provided by the responding squad; the name and certification of every EMS provider on-site; whether or not any other EMS providers responded to the call; the outcome of the encounter; and any other relevant information.
According to the Department of Health, the Office of Emergency Medical Services maintains a voluntary ambulance call information database, and data from about 80 percent of 911 calls around the state is recorded.
“I bet that every single squad in New Jersey has something that they’re doing really well that once we measure it, (information) can be shared with other squads,” O’Scanlon said.
One item currently not part of the bill would be how response times are recorded. Either through a new bill or an amendment in 24 months, that facet could be added. O’Scanlon said a body of data is needed before that occurs.
O’Scanlon added that response times would not be a grading system for EMS services, continuing that “we’re not here to pit squad against squad – that is not even on the radar.”
Outside of bipartisan support, there are concerns around the state from first responders as to how volunteer squads, which are not typically flush with cash, can fund the hardware needed.
“We see the need and advantages of having data,” said Howard Meyer, director of government affairs for the EMS Council of New Jersey. “There are just some issues and concerns that we’re trying to get our hands around.”
Meyer added that the EMS Council of New Jersey has a neutral stance on the bill now.
The bill does say that any software would be provided through the Department of Health, but the physical hardware, typically Toughbooks and a main computer system back at headquarters, would have to be funded through grants.
In Middletown, this new proposal would not change much from the existing operation, other than simply sending their accrued data out to the state rather than keeping it in-house, said Bob Pfleger, public information officer for the Township of Middletown Emergency Medical Services Department.
Though for new equipment in ambulances, he said systems work well when available to squads, but added that for the squads that lack equipment, “there’s a cost to incur to get that going. One thing the volunteer squads don’t have is money.”
O’Scanlon said that regarding grants, squads could look to the Division of Highway Traffic Safety to help aid squads for any other necessary tools.
Mike Nikolis, president of Holmdel First Aid and a Holmdel Township committeeman, said this bill is necessary for the state to understand how squads respond to calls.
For his squad specifically, which responded to about 1,700 calls in 2016, it would be a drastic change in how they record and submit data.
“Pen and paper – that’s what we use to record our runs,” Nikolis said. “It never fails, but it doesn’t meet the modern needs of a state that has seen a dramatic increase of call volume over the last 30 to 40 years.”
While a majority of EMS calls still encompass motor vehicle accidents or trips to local nursing homes, squads around the state are responding more to overdoses stemming from a single state-wide epidemic.
“The opioid epidemic is case in point,” said O’Scanlon. “If you get a particularly poisonous batch of heroin…with fentanyl in it that is wreaking havoc, you could get that dispatched to folks in a number of different towns all with different responding medical services.”
According to O’Scanlon, the bill has received approval from the state senate’s Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens committee. He anticipates the bill being passed by the end of June.
This article was first published in the June 8-June 15, 2017 print edition of The Two River Times.
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