The delivery of the National EMS Awards of Excellence was more subdued this year, but the winners no less deserving. The best providers and services of 2020, as determined by EMS World and the National Association of Emergency Medical Technicians, were announced several weeks ago (read their stories here) but officially accepted their honors Sept. 15 at the NAEMT’s general membership meeting.
That meeting coincided again this year with EMS World Expo, but both events were virtual this year due to COVID-19. NAEMT Region II director Susan Bailey summarized the winners’ accomplishments, and each delivered brief video acceptance remarks. EMS World congratulates:
Dick Ferneau Career EMS Service of the Year—Onslow County EMS, Jacksonville, N.C.;
Volunteer EMS Service of the Year—Sun City Center Emergency Squad, Sun City Center, Fla.;
NAEMT/Nasco Paramedic of the Year—Stephen Lincke, Wantagh, N.Y.;
NAEMT/Braun Industries EMT of the Year—Jonathon Thatcher, South Rim, Utah;
NAEMT/Bound Tree EMS Medical Director of the Year—Paul Pepe, MD, MPH, Dallas, Tex.;
NAEMT/Jones & Bartlett Learning EMS Educator of the Year—Scott DeBoer, CCRN, Dyer, Ind.;
NAEMT/North American Rescue Military Medic of the Year—Colleen Mitchell, Senior Airman, EMT, U.S. Air Force, Land O’Lakes, Fla.
The NAEMT concluded its meeting by bestowing its most prestigious honor, the Rocco V. Morando Lifetime Achievement Award, on Pennsylvania’s commonwealth EMS medical director for the last 20 years, Doug Kupas, MD. It delivered several other honors as well, including its Advocate of the Year and Presidential Leadership Awards.
A Significant Year
Departing President Matt Zavadsky spent the bulk of the session updating viewers on the organization’s 2020, which has been as unusual as everyone else’s. To the NAEMT, it’s actually been monumental.
Said Zavadsky, “2020 is perhaps the single most significant year in the entire history of the EMS profession. As the coronavirus pandemic unfolded, our country and the world were witness to the remarkable dedication, commitment to service, and courage of EMS practitioners. Our EMS workforce has endured great challenges and made great sacrifices in the care of their patients. Communities owe a great debt of gratitude to paramedics, EMTs, and other prehospital providers who are serving on the front lines of the COVID-19 response.” He noted COVID is the first serious “unseen” killer EMS has faced since HIV in the 1980s.
Representatives of the National EMS Memorial Service delivered an opening prayer and brief report—the service is vetting more than 60 new nominees for potential inclusion, including almost 50 related to COVID—before Zavadsky returned with highlights of the NAEMT’s year.
The year began as the last in the group’s three-year strategic plan, but by mid-March, with it clear the U.S. would be severely affected by the emerging virus, that plan was set aside to focus on getting EMS providers the resources they needed against COVID. NAEMT reached out to Congress and an array of federal sources (DHS, HHS, CMS, FEMA), as well as President Trump to raise awareness and understanding and conducted numerous advocacy campaigns around areas like PPE, hazard pay, direct relief, and reimbursement for alternative destinations and treatment in place.
Members and supporters sent more than 32,000 e-mails to Congress using NAEMT’s online service, the most participation it’s had in a campaign by far, Zavadsky said.
Some wins resulted: In April the CDC gave first responders heightened priority for PPE and COVID testing. CMS agreed to reimburse transport to alternative destinations. Media coverage of EMS workers’ role in the crisis was positive and unprecedented.
However, EMS was left out of the CARES Act’s direct relief, and many services remain in dire financial straits—an April surveyed that garnered almost 900 responses found services in “deep distress, with many in jeopardy of closing,” Zavadsky said. The results were distributed to Congress, federal agency heads, and the leaders of EMS organizations. NAEMT has continued to press for treatment-in-place reimbursement, hazard pay, supply chain priority, and EMS relief through disaster grants.
It’s also opened a COVID resource center, collecting guidance, protocols, and other resources; delivered a series of educational webinars to help keep providers informed; and struck deals with Amazon and Hilton for new member benefits.
The Effect on Education
COVID-19 hit the EMS educational world especially hard, closing training centers and throttling the pipeline of new providers. Other students moved to online vendors, leaving schools struggling. NAEMT published pandemic guidance for its training centers and held webinars to help educators adjust. Zavadsky credited those instructors for their resilience in the face of 2020’s challenges: “We’ve seen tremendous innovation by instructors in the field that is now being replicated by training centers across the globe,” he said.
Core educational offerings like AMLS, PHTLS, TECC, and PEC have been updated, and this year the NAEMT created an EMS Corporate Engagement Council as a forum for suppliers and deliverers of EMS products to discuss their issues. Initial members include AT&T, Genentech, and OnStar, as well as more niche-specific vendors. With June’s civil unrest and the ongoing focus on racial equity, the organization emphasized the value of diversity and created a new scholarship to promote it in the EMS workforce.
Importantly, the NAEMT saw a whopping increase of 34% in its membership this year.
Incoming President Bruce Evans outlined an ambitious agenda once he takes office in January. He wants to realize a mentoring program conceived by the late EMS legend Jim Page; stand up a political academy to produce more successful advocacy campaigns; incentivize (but not mandate) college degrees through an EMS “GI Bill” that, with three years of documented ambulance service, would pay for attendance at an accredited paramedic program; “fix reimbursement,” part of which entails a permanent Finance Committee to be initially chaired by Zavadsky; and add international members to the NAEMT board.