State lowers standard for ambulance staffing

Georgians can’t always be assured that the medics who arrive in ambulances in an emergency will have the skills necessary to address their most dire needs.

That’s because, about a year ago, the state, in trying to compensate for a critical shortage of emergency medical personnel, opted to drop the skill level required of those in the transport vehicles.

The new regulation allows medics with only basic skills, such as first aid and CPR, to fill seats. In prior years, the state required at least one medic on an ambulance to have an intermediate or higher level of medical training, such as certification as a paramedic. If a patient needed a more critical intervention, such as starting an IV or administering certain medications, the medic with more advanced skills was available to provide it.

“These are serious consequences.” said David Loftin, former EMS director for Region 1. “In the middle of rural areas, where a transport to the hospital is an hour, it may have a significant impact on a patient’s survival.”

Loftin said he was among the hundreds of medics and others who wrote to the state to oppose the change, contending it was harmful to patients.

The state saw it differently.

Nancy Nydam, spokeswoman for the Georgia Department of Health, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that the change to staffing levels was necessary to avoid having to halt essential emergency services to the public. Georgia is among the states that are affected by a critical shortage of emergency medical personnel.

EMS officials in parts of rural Georgia were struggling to find enough medics to operate their vehicles, Nydam wrote in response to questions from the AJC.

Yet another reason the change drew support was because ambulances in Georgia don’t just answer to emergency calls. The vehicles are also used to transport patients between hospitals, to dialysis and nursing homes.

In that case, those types of patients do not require “any clinical interventions above the level of EMT,” Nydam wrote.

As a result, the new rule allows for more appropriate and efficient staffing, she said.

“Forcing an agency to staff that vehicle with someone with a higher license level would not be appropriate,” she wrote. “The rule change does not lower the standard of care of patients in Georgia.’’