Lawmaker pushes EMS transparency

ATLANTA — A push to require more transparency from ambulance providers in Georgia stalled earlier this year, but the measure’s last-minute collapse has drawn renewed attention to what proponents say is a broken emergency medical services system.

“Because of the effort that we made and the fact that nothing was done, there was certainly a message sent and it wasn’t the one we wanted,” said the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Bill Werkheiser.

The Glennville Republican says he will be back next year with his proposal, which remains alive for the 2020 legislative session. The bill would ban executives of ambulance companies from serving on committees that award coveted contracts, among other changes.

“In what other world can you be a provider and then sit on a board that chooses the provider?” Werkheiser said.

Werkheiser is pushing for changes that would make clear that the 10 regional EMS councils and their subcommittees must abide by the Georgia Open Meetings Act and require the local panels to publish data showing how long patients had to wait for help to arrive. Vendors would also have to register as lobbyists.

The state Department of Public Health, which oversees the regional councils, would also recommend accountability standards appropriate for each area that considers the availability of emergency rooms, population size and other factors that could affect response times.

“Everyone wants good medicine, good health care in Georgia, and that begins at the EMS level,” said Julianne Thompson, who is the spokeswoman for the Georgia Ambulance Transparency Project, which is a coalition of family members and groups advocating for stronger ethical standards.

“We just want to make sure that people are getting the best health care possible, and that is not what’s happening right now,” she said.

Thompson called the problems “systemic,” although she noted the issues do not exist with every provider in every community.

Werkheiser said he hopes to address the issue of long wait times — or, in some cases, no response at all — in some communities by requiring increased transparency and accountability within the system.

He said he has tried to weigh proponents’ demands for change against the providers’ patient privacy concerns and their pursuit of efficiency, which often means having to take non-emergency calls that may leave a crew tied up when an emergency call comes in.

Jill Nolin covers the Georgia Statehouse for CNHI's newspapers and websites.

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