VOICES: Ambulance companies, EMTs in need of rescue

Brian Hathaway is the President and CEO of Spirit Medical Transport.

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Brian Hathaway is the President and CEO of Spirit Medical Transport.

Every day our elected officials at the Ohio Statehouse are faced with decisions to make. They consider the needs of their constituents, the disparities in their communities, and new, burgeoning issues in order to come to their choices and make a lasting impact on our state.

Ohio’s Medicaid reimbursement for EMS is one of the lowest in the country, and it is critical that Ohio’s policymakers address the industry’s very real and worsening problems in short order. Or else, EMS as a whole and the frontline workers who support ground ambulances will continue to suffer.

Ground ambulances are the only healthcare providers that are directly impacted by the extreme hike in fuel costs, which has increased 48 percent in the last 12 months.

On top of this, EMTs and paramedics have been and continue fleeing EMS.

Opportunities with higher wages and balanced workhours became more attractive – even before COVID. Once COVID hit, so many EMTs and paramedics left these skilled jobs simply because they did not want the increased risk of exposure to the virus.

This left an already thin workforce to its barest bones.

And companies are still unable to rightfully compensate their workforce. Ohio’s Medicaid reimbursement rates are extremely low, the lowest among all of its state neighbors and lower than 46 states in the nation. So, more people continue to leave EMS, and it has forced the EMTs and paramedics who stayed to pick up too many additional shifts.

There was an opportunity to relieve EMS of these challenges, many of which were exacerbated during the COVID-19 pandemic; however, the industry did not receive any state CARES Act money and to date none of the state ARPA funds. Regardless, ground ambulances, EMTs and paramedics had to continue operating, living up to their promise to their patients, without seeing any real financial viability that they could keep going.

But this reality caught up with them. Many ground ambulance companies had to shutter their doors. To name a few, Integrity of Greenville, which served many facilities in Darke, Montgomery, Miami, Shelby, Mercer, and Auglaize counties, and Ambulance Associates in Canton shut down operation this year after decades of serving their communities.

This leaves the areas they once served without immediate, reliable care. It forces providers that are based much farther away to pick up this lost coverage. It stretches these few remaining companies, and their few remaining EMTs and paramedics, extremely thin.

The state’s policies have created an imbalance. The winners have been the insurance companies that were guaranteed a seat at the table, and the losers are not just the family-owned, small businesses that continue to face financial hardship, but also Ohio patients who are in need of critical care.

Faced with impending additional ARPA allocations, the state will again be faced with the same decision. It’s time for the state to make some attempts to even the playing field and help EMS, their own constituents.

Brian Hathaway is the President and CEO of Spirit Medical Transport.

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