TRENTON – Among the bills getting a last-minute push toward approval before the legislative session ends next week are some addressing staff shortages affecting emergency medical services, which the ambulance industry says are vital for their operations.

One is an extension of a pandemic-era rule waiver that allows an EMT to be paired with a first responder for non-emergency calls, rather than two EMTs. The other tweaks rules for volunteer paramedics.

Gov. Phil Murphy is calling for a whole series of waivers and other emergency powers to be extended 90 days, but the EMT change might be handled through a standalone bill that would be effective through the end of 2022.

Greg Scott, owner of Able Medical Transportation and president of the Medical Transportation Association of New Jersey, said the entire system is struggling but that ambulance capacity could drop another 30% to 50% unless the bill passes.

“In my 38-year career, I have never seen a staffing like this or anything even remotely close,” Scott said.

Scott said there was an EMT shortage even before the pandemic but that people are now exiting in droves. Those who remain are being pushed to the limits and will soon give up. Around 20% of staff are currently sidelined by COVID infections or quarantines.

“We’ve been in this battle for two years, and it doesn’t look like this pandemic is going away any time soon,” he said.

Scott said his company has gone from 102 employees to 65 during the pandemic, mostly through losses of EMTs, and runs eight or nine ambulances a day rather than the typical 15.

John Bush, president of On Time Ambulance, said the waiver is helping – although that even with it in place, recruiters have a hard time filling the roster, leading to estimated times of arrival at hospitals of six-plus hours and patients sometimes stranded overnight.

“Losing this waiver on Jan. 11th would absolutely create a crisis within the RWJ Barnabas system, the largest in the state, as well as the other nursing homes and dialysis patients,” Bush said. “It would be devastating for the entire healthcare system.”

The Assembly Health Committee advanced the bill Monday, and the Senate health committee did the same last month. It is listed for a vote in the full Assembly next Monday. The Senate hasn’t yet published its board list.

On Thursday, the Senate health committee is due to take it up a separate measure endorsed Monday by the Assembly Health Committee that permits volunteer paramedics to operate within mobile intensive care units.

The bill would let the first volunteer paramedic who responds to an emergency call off the second from having to arrive, as well as allow them to not wear an issued uniform so long as they’re professionally dressed. Local intensive care paramedics also would be allowed to perform advanced life support services.

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Assemblyman Gary Schaer, D-Passaic, said such changes could ease the impacts from a shortage of paramedics affecting New Jersey, like the nation as a whole.

“This bill would provide the ability of volunteers to indeed assist and initiate life-saving treatments which otherwise would not be arriving on a timely basis,” Schaer said.

Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5. Contact him at michael.symons@townsquaremedia.com.

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