Coronavirus on Smart Talk Thursday: Pandemic puts emergency responders in tough spot; PennDOT adapts

Nearly a quarter of Pennsylvania’s Emergency Medical Services shut down between 2012 and 2018 due to a lack of funding and not enough emergency service technicians, paramedics or volunteers to staff ambulances. That was before the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, emergency responders face exposure to patients infected by the virus and risking their own health, as well as money being even tighter.

The pandemic has made a looming crisis even worse.

Where they are paid, paramedics and EMTs earn an average of $34,000 annually. In Pennsylvania’s more rural areas, ambulances are often staffed by volunteers. There are fewer of them than just a few years ago.

Ambulances count on reimbursements from private insurers, Medicaid and Medicare as well as contributions from the public. Often, the reimbursements go directly to the patient and don’t make it to the EMS.

Thursday’s Smart Talk examines emergency services with Jerry Ozog, Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Fire and Emergency Services Institute and Donald DeReamus, Legislative Chair, Ambulance Association of Pennsylvania.

Also, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation has instituted several changes in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent limitations. Included are the closings of the state’s driver license centers, extending expiration dates for licenses, registrations and inspections and restricting construction to emergency needs.

Yassmin Gramian, Pennsylvania’s Acting Secretary of Transportation, appears on Thursday’s Smart Talk to provide details.