Ambulance companies open to compromise over PTSD bill for first responders

Ambulance companies open to compromise over PTSD bill for first responders

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Paramedics and emergency medical technicians, often the first responders to horrific crime and accident scenes, want to be included in a bill under consideration in the state Senate that would expand benefits for workers suffering from PTSD.

The bill, if approved, would allow police officers, parole officers and firefighters to make workers’ compensation claims for post-traumatic stress syndrome.

A similar bill was raised in 2015 and included EMTs. Although it was supported by unions and lawmakers, ambulance companies and advocates for municipalities opposed it as too costly and too vague.

A revised 20-page bill negotiated by the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities, the unions and lawmakers limits the length of time an injured officer, firefighter or parole officer would receive workers’ compensation. It also defines the medical criteria for claiming workers’ compensation, including what types of trauma an employee witnesses.

But thousands of EMTs and paramedics across the state have signed a petition calling on lawmakers to include them.

“While this is a huge step forward for fire and police across Connecticut, the bill as passed completely ignores a huge portion of the state’s first responders,” said Philip Petit, national director of the International Association of EMTs and Paramedics. “These benefits are crucial for all first responders and EMS professionals across Connecticut deserve access to these resources.”

Late Wednesday, a Republican amendment to include EMTs drew opposition from Democrats who feared it could jeopardize the agreement that led to the existing bill.

The legislation was tabled and its hopes for passage this session are now in doubt.

Open to talks

“The proposal represents the consensus from a year-long effort by a group of municipal leaders and police and fire leaders to provide PTSD benefits for the first time in a responsible way ... and in a manner that is cost sustainable,” CCM spokesman Kevin Maloney said in an earlier email. “The working group focused on seeking the best possible way to initially provide cost-sustainable benefits and focused on two primary public safety groups — police and fire. We remain open to how the benefits may need to be improved over time.”

David Lowell, speaking for the Association of Connecticut Ambulance Providers, opposed the 2015 bill because he felt it would create an “increased hardship” on all Medicaid and Medicare providers at a time when rates have been cut. ACAP asked that emergency medical technicians and paramedics and ambulance drivers be exempt from the plan.

Lowell, who is also executive vice president of Meriden-based Hunter’s Ambulance, said the new bill better defines the terms of the proposed law and opens a discussion toward future inclusion.

“The current proposal needs additional changes but provides a number of important coverage details previously absent,” according to a press statement from ACAP. “Although the current version does not include emergency medical technicians and paramedics, we believe there are now sufficient details that warrant consideration and we, the member companies of ACAP, are open to such discussions and consideration.”

Hunter’s, AMR

Hunter’s Ambulance and Global Medical Response, the parent company of American Medical Response, have employee assistance programs available for workers facing difficulties after witnessing trauma. Those include crisis counseling, chaplains, and coverage for psychiatric sessions.

Both Lowell and a representative for GMR said the workers’ compensation coverage would be in addition to existing programs.

While Lowell said the current proposal is a foundation for future talks, GMR supports adding EMTs to the current bill.

“This measure is an important step in recognizing the contributions of all first responders,” GMR vice president Chuck Babson said in an email. “At AMR, we strongly believe EMT’s and paramedics should be included, because they also experience PTSD. We stand by our employees in Connecticut and will continue to advocate for fair treatment in coverage for all first responders.”
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