Capitol Update

by Senator Howard Marklein

March 12, 2021


Supporting Our Rural EMS


Emergency Medical Service (EMS) personnel are invaluable across our state for their dedication to our communities and for providing lifesaving support during times of disaster. However, many rural and volunteer EMS departments are having difficulties ensuring that when we need them, someone is able to show up for us.

In 2019, I held four “Rural Volunteer EMS Summits” across the 17th Senate District to answer the question, “What can the state do to help with recruitment and retention of rural volunteer EMS?” I spoke with 100 EMS personnel from more than 30 units, and they all shared significant issues hindering their departments from flourishing and providing lifesaving care to our residents.

I recently re-introduced legislation directed specifically at supporting our rural EMS departments. These three bills – Senate Bill (SB) 88, SB 89, and SB 90 – have been crafted to address several of the largest obstacles brought to us during the EMS Summits in 2019. All of these bills were introduced during the last legislative session, but did not successfully complete the process due to the COVID-19 pandemic. We’re giving it another try.

SB 88 will increase the Funding Assistance Program (FAP) which was created in 1989 to financially support EMS departments around Wisconsin. Funding has been cut twice since 1989, leaving a gap in financial resources for our EMS providers. This bill will simply restore the funding to its original level and give back our local departments the aid they desperately need. While the gap is only $2 million statewide, this is a big gap for our volunteer services to close on their own.

SB 89 will follow approximately 21 other states in making the National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians (NREMT) exam optional for Emergency Medical Responders (EMRs). One of the most prevalent issues I heard during my EMS Summits were frustrations over the NREMT exam. EMS personnel from around our state have told me this test is unnecessarily difficult, expensive, and often has questions that are completely irrelevant to serving the people of Wisconsin. A participant at the Darlington summit shared that one of the questions on this NREMT exam was: “What should the tire pressure be on an ambulance in the mountains of Colorado?” Another ridiculous question is – “What do you do in the case of a shark attack?” Questions like this are irrelevant to serving Wisconsin.

While SB 89 would make the NREMT exam optional for departments to require, it is important to note that EMR’s are still required to pass a host of other applicable testing to qualify for licensure, including DHS courses, hands-on training, and in-person exercises. It is also up to the individual squad to decide whether their EMRs would be required to take the exam.

SB 90 is the final bill in this package. It is an omnibus bill that covers a lot of different topics including the burden of collecting signatures for the Funding Assistance Program (FAP), ambulance staffing for low-risk, non-emergency transports (ie: hospital to nursing home), flexible staffing requirements and prohibiting exclusive arrangements.

It is important to note that all of the regulatory changes in this package of legislation create options for our departments. I do not seek to lower standards or force unwanted change. These bills give local, rural EMS departments the option to do what is best for their departments and ensure they can meet the unique needs of our communities.

One of my main priorities in the Legislature has always been to advocate for rural Wisconsin. All too often, rural voices are overshadowed in Madison and Milwaukee. The issues that we face go unnoticed. I am grateful to our area EMS personnel for sharing the ways Wisconsin state regulations are preventing their rural departments from both recruiting and retaining volunteers. It is important for me to author this legislation and give our community first responders the support they need.

While this package of legislation will not solve the rural EMS shortage overnight, I believe it will help remove the bureaucratic red tape that hinders our communities from thriving. There is still work to do, but I am proud of this initiative to support our local men and women who respond when we need them. Thank you to all of the EMS departments in our communities for your service. I will continue fighting for you in the Legislature.

For more information and to connect with me, visit my website http://legis.wisconsin.gov/senate/17/marklein and subscribe to my weekly E-Update by sending an email to Sen.Marklein@legis.wisconsin.gov. Do not hesitate to call 800-978-8008 if you have any questions or need assistance with any state-related matters.