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EMS not considered ‘essential’ in S.C., but bill would change that

Published: Dec. 8, 2021 at 7:29 PM EST
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - The pandemic has shown how critical emergency medical services are across the country.

But in South Carolina and most other states, EMS is not classified as an “essential service,” as law enforcement and fire services are.

While those services have been part of the US in some fashion since colonial times, EMS is much younger, established in many areas of the country in the 1970s, according to South Carolina EMS Association Advocacy and Legislative Chair Steven McDade.

But since then, McDade said EMS has become a necessity in every community.

“You can look at it from just an everyday thing, where you can call for a heart attack or a stroke or a car wreck, or look at the impact that EMS has had during this pandemic. They, really, we’ve been the ones, frontline, combatting that,” he said.

A bill pre-filed in the South Carolina House of Representatives would designate EMS or ambulance service as essential in the state. As of Wednesday, H.4601 had six Republican cosponsors and was assigned to the House Judiciary Committee.

“A lot of times, our EMS folks call themselves the ‘forgotten first responders,’ and it’s unfortunate because they’re often the first people on scene,” said Rep. West Cox, R – Anderson, the bill’s lead sponsor. “They’re doing a lot of things, and so we really wanted to bring them up to the level of everyone else.”

As part of the bill, every county in the state would need to ensure it has at least one ambulance available to its people, which is not currently a requirement by law.

Counties could satisfy this by owning and operating their own ambulance, entering an agreement with another local government or hospital, or contracting with a private company, among other options.

“It’s more of a protection thing because we always say, ‘Well, that’s always going to be here,’ but it may not, and so by going ahead and codifying that into law, we say this is important, we require everyone to do it, and then if they’re already doing it, great,” Cox said.

All 46 counties already have access to ambulances, according to McDade, but the bill, if passed, would guarantee it stays that way.

“It lays the groundwork that when they call 9-1-1, now there is something in place that requires an ambulance to be there,” he said, adding the bill is not an “unfunded mandate,” with no funding request for state lawmakers or monetary requirement for counties.

Cox said the bill would give this group of first responders the recognition they deserve and could have additional benefits.

“It’s a respect thing, but also it opens up the possibility for certain federal disaster funding, certain things in that area, so it opens up some more avenues for them,” he said.

McDade added that more states classifying ambulance services as essential would add weight to a push to make it essential at the federal level as well.

EMS is currently not considered an essential service in nearly 40 states, but that number has shrunk in recent years, as more states have passed laws to change that designation.

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