Leroy Garcia, Jr., is the kind of high achiever you want on your side. He was the first in his family to graduate from college. As a Marine he served in Iraq. Then he came home, got into EMS, and got into politics. From 2013–2015 he served in the Colorado House of Representatives, then moved up to the state senate, where in 2018 he was unanimously elected president.
EMS World: Can you briefly describe your background in EMS?
Garcia: Right after high school I enlisted in the Marine Corps and was deployed to Iraq as a mortuary affairs specialist. I proudly served my country in uniform until 2007. It was my service in the Marine Corps that led me to pursue a degree in emergency medical services. I continued to work as an EMS provider while as I pursued bachelor’s and master’s degrees. Nearly two decades later I am still a nationally registered paramedic serving my community and currently teach paramedics at Pueblo Community College. Today I use my experience to advocate for EMS providers in the Capitol.
How does your EMS background give you a unique perspective into the health needs of your constituents?
EMS providers are on the front lines when it comes to healthcare, and that perspective gives you an understanding of the issues facing not only EMS providers but everyday Coloradans.
As a paramedic I have personally seen Coloradans struggle with drug abuse and addiction, and I have seen how the opioid epidemic is particularly devastating in rural Colorado. That is why I made tackling the opioid epidemic a top priority and worked to expand a successful medication-assisted treatment pilot program. By building on an effort we know works, we can help Coloradans—our friends, neighbors, and families—who are struggling with opioid addiction in the highest-need counties.
What are the 2–3 most pressing legislative issues facing EMS delivery in your state?
There are a number of issues facing EMS providers, and some of the most pressing are the lack of a peer-assistance program and a lack of recognition of the changes in the industry in our laws.
Working in emergency medical services is both physically and mentally strenuous, and EMS providers often face higher rates of substance abuse and depression, but those providers serving rural communities often do not have programs that give them support they need to serve.
EMS is a field that is innovating and changing, particularly when it comes to the training and experience required of EMS providers, but those changes have not always been reflected, particularly when it comes to the type of settings in which providers can work.
What are some victories and challenges you’ve faced in advocating for these issues?
Colorado made healthcare a top priority this legislative session, but as a practicing paramedic and senate president, I made addressing issues facing EMS providers a top priority as well.
We created a peer-assistance program to give providers critical education, support, and counseling when they face a chemical dependency, mental health issue, or anything else as a result of their work. We passed legislation that expands the settings in which EMS providers can practice, like hospitals and clinics, and allow them to help even more Coloradans every day. We also gave first responders who develop a permanent occupational disability as a result of their work free passes to state parks so they can enjoy all our great state has to offer.
How can readers both in and outside of Colorado learn more and get involved?
EMS providers offer unique perspectives we need more of in our policy conversations about how to best address the challenges facing our healthcare system. The best way to share that perspective is to stay informed and get involved. I encourage everyone to look at joining organizations that advocate for EMS providers and get in touch with your legislators about the issues that matter most to you.
Jonathan Bassett is the editorial director for EMS World.