‘We Were Left Out’: Conn. EMS Workers Fight For Bigger Voice At The State Level
For more than six years, Connecticut legislators and advocates have been trying to pass legislation that expands workers compensation benefits for first responders, particularly for those who develop job-related post-traumatic stress.
And when they finally succeeded this year and Gov. Ned Lamont signed a bill into law earlier this month, advocates and workers cheered in victory. But for emergency medical service professionals, who are not included in the new law, it was a different story.
“The expression is just disappointment and just kind of feeling hurt,” said paramedic Robert Glaspy, “because when you mention first responders, you typically think fire, EMS and police officers as one group who respond to these situations, and if just kind of felt like we were left out of the bill.”
In the wake of what happened this past legislative session, Glaspy has been working with other EMS members who are determined to increase support for the profession — that includes forming an organized body of providers who can fight for the best interests of EMS professionals, including benefits for PTSD.
“What we’d like to see is a larger, at a state level, voice for all providers, EMS providers, to be able to glean information for their education but also when things are coming down as far as legislation, to also educate providers in what legislators are looking for as far as passing bills,” he said.
Under the new PTSD law, which is already in effect, police officers, firefighters and parole officers can get a year of workers compensation if they suffer from post-traumatic stress that’s related to witnessing death, or serious injury that leads to death. First responders could use that time to get treatment and recovery services.
Before, state laws carved out this type of benefit only if the mental injury happened along with a physical injury. But mounting data show that mental injuries alone can lead to depression, anxiety, stress and suicide.
But Glaspy said emergency medical responders, technicians and paramedics are just as likely to suffer mental health problems after witnessing tragic injuries and deaths.
There are more than 23,000 EMS providers in Connecticut who often work alongside police and firefighters on emergency calls to accidents, private homes and even the scenes of large-scale attacks where they may see death or serious injuries. Glaspy said that can be traumatizing, no matter how prepared they are for the possibilities.
“When you have a duty in responding to these situations, you can’t help but to not have it affect you in some way, shape or form,” he said.
According to a 2018 report by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 69 percent of EMS professionals reported that they never had enough time to recovery from traumatic events. Like police officers and firefighters, EMS professionals are more likely than the general population to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, and think about or attempt suicide.
Up until the last days of the legislative session, lawmakers tried to find a way to include EMS in this year’s bill. State Sen. Dan Champagne, who is a retired police officer, appealed to his colleagues on the Senate floor in May.
“We’re leaving out a big portion of those first responders by not including EMS. They deal with everything we deal with and sometimes, they’re first on the scene,” he said. “And if we leave them out, we’re doing an injustice to about a third of our first responders.”
But in the end, EMS responders weren’t included, and paramedic Derrick Caranci thinks he knows at least one reason why.
“EMS is all over the place. There are so many ways EMS is set up throughout the state. Even volunteer services are private organizations, (where) some get funding from the town and some don’t. Then you have the larger commercial services, for-profit services,” he said. “EMS is so vastly different even in just such a small state that we need to find a way to get everyone — the volunteers, the commercial, even fire-based EMTs and hospital-based (EMS) — get everyone on the same page.”
That’s in direct contrast to police and firefighters, each of which have strong union representation as well as national association representatives at the capitol.
Instead, a legislative committee will conduct a study to see how this law may be expanded to include all EMS works and Department of Corrections employees in the future.
Meanwhile, Caranci is working with Glaspy and others to form a statewide EMS association separate from existing regional councils and state boards. He hopes this way, providers will be able to give more input when it comes to laws that impact the profession.
“It’s one thing for two, three, four EMS providers to show up at the state building and public hearings and voice their concerns,” Caranci said. “It’s quite another thing for an association to show up with thousands of members and say, yes, this is fantastic, or no, this isn’t going to work and here’s why.”
Caranci said the need for more uniformity and solidarity among EMS had been building, and the PTSD bill became a catalyst for change. The process of creating an association may take time, but he sees this as a way to get EMS workers the help and support they need for the long run.
The goal is to get the association established before the state of the next legislative session.
“I know the bill’s been passed, I know it’s been signed,” Caranci said, “but we haven’t stopped trying to get us to where we need to be.”