EMS Public Affairs: Developing a Strategy

Developing a public affairs strategy will help you influence public policy, build a strong reputation and establish common ground with stakeholders

Traditionally EMS leaders have assumed that if they do a good job, make effective use of scarce resources and stay off the front page of the local newspaper, all is well. Nothing could be further from the truth. Myriad forces are at work that can undermine your best efforts to provide quality service to a large and vulnerable segment of our society.

Defining Public Affairs

In general, public affairs deals with external stakeholder relations. Although it may be debated in some circles, most will agree that EMS is essentially a healthcare profession. In fact, we are the largest provider of health services in the nation. Many of our stakeholders are healthcare-related. In addition to the healthcare function, we also operate in a key public safety role, often bringing a totally different set of stakeholders.

Healthcare stakeholders:

• Patients

• Patient family members

• Hospitals

• Accountable care organizations

• Skilled nursing facilities

• Long-term acute care centers

• Home health agencies

• Physicians (including medical control)

• Payers (Medicare, Medicaid, commercial)

• Trade associations

• Suppliers

Public safety stakeholders:

• First responders

• City government

• County government

• State government

• Federal government

• Emergency management

• Media

• Unions

• Local business associations

An effective public affairs strategy engages stakeholders so we can explain what EMS is and our role in various communities, provide statistical and factual information on operations, and lobby on issues that could impact our ability to operate successfully. The work combines government relations, media communications, dissemination of corporate and social responsibility information, and strategic communications.

Platforms like text messaging, Facebook and Twitter present both a unique challenge and an opportunity for public affairs. Never before have people been able to share information on such a global scale. We will devote an entire column to this in the near future.

Three of the most significant goals of public affairs are to influence public policy, build and maintain a strong brand and reputation, and find a common ground with stakeholders. It is our desire with this column to help the EMS profession identify ways to focus on these goals locally and nationally.

Influence Public Policy

A plethora of national associations represent EMS interests: the National Association of EMTs (NAEMT), American Ambulance Association (AAA), Advocates for EMS (AEMS), International Association of EMS Chiefs (IAEMSC), National Association of EMS Physicians (NAEMSP), National Association of EMS Educators (NAEMSE), National Association of State EMS Officials (NASMSO), International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF), International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC), National Emergency Medical Services Management Association (NEMSMA), among others.

While there have been some limited successes, the difficulty with having all these associations has been the lack of a unified voice for EMS on the larger issues facing our profession. Having served on numerous national lobbying efforts, a common message I’ve heard from legislators is that very few of these associations agree on any one position for EMS. Consequently, many of our initiatives are discounted or kicked back to us to try to determine a unified position—something that often eludes this collection of special interest groups.

Build a Strong Brand

A common mantra of our industry is the statement, “If you’ve seen one EMS system, you’ve seen one EMS system.” While funny and perhaps true, this does not bode well for fostering any type of brand loyalty. We often fall prey to the discord created by our own vehement opinions on how—or by whom—EMS is delivered (fire-based, private contract, third service, volunteer, hospital-based, public utility model, etc.) without focusing on the fact that we all deliver EMS to our local communities in the best way we know how, regardless of the uniform we wear.

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