OPINION: Prop 11 will ensure fast response times from EMTs, paramedics

In December 2016, the California Supreme Court ruled that it is illegal for companies to force employees to work during their designated breaks.  Proposition 11 was drafted in anticipation of this standard being applied to privately-employed paramedics and emergency medical technicians, who make up about 75 percent of emergency medical workers in the state.

Prop 11 would address three different components: being on-call during breaks, which is its most vital portion; additional training for respondents; and mental health services for these workers. All three aspects create a bill with positive benefits to both the working emergency respondents and the society they serve.

To maintain the safety and efficacy of the state’s emergency services, it is imperative that Californians vote yes on Prop 11.

The standard operating procedure for emergency response workers is to remain on call during paid work breaks. The outcome of a medical emergency is heavily dependent on the response time of emergency services. According to the Journal of Emergency Medical Services, “emergency calls where response times were less than five minutes were associated with improved survival when compared with calls where response times exceeded five minutes.”

Carol Meyer, a former director of the Los Angeles County Emergency Medical Services Agency, worries that response rates will increase: “The ambulance may be three minutes away, five minutes away, 10 minutes away … the bottom line is that it’s further than the one that’s around the corner.” Each minute is precious.

Ambulances typically have no permanent location, which helps improve response times. Instead, they follow a practice known as “posting.” First, respondents are strategically positioned in order to anticipate 911 calls.

When the call comes, the closest ambulance is expected to respond, and the remaining ambulances reposition themselves to effectively cover parameters for the next call. This minimizes both response rates and ambulance crews.

If Prop 11 fails to pass, companies would collectively have to spend up to $100 million a year on the extra staff and ambulances needed to cover the gaps when EMTs and paramedics take breaks, and the cost would be passed on to taxpayers, according to the fiscal impact statement released by the state’s legislative analyst and director of finance. However, if the measure passes, the money saved would benefit local governments. This is not at the financial expense of the workers. Though their paid breaks may be interrupted, EMTs and paramedics often have a significant amount of downtime between calls.

One of Prop 11’s added benefits is additional training for the paramedics and EMTs. These trainings aim to prepare for natural disasters, active shooters and violence prevention. With 5,527 California fires across 620,858 acres in 2018, and mass shootings occurring alarmingly frequently across America, it is imperative that respondents be  properly trained to react appropriately and quickly to these circumstances. Because there are special precautions that must be taken into account in every emergency, any additional experience would help respondents save more lives.

The service that paramedics and EMTs provide their community is widely recognized, and Prop  11 is designed to help these workers better aid those who are in need of it. One particular example is the measure’s proposal to require coverage of mental health services for paramedics and EMTs, who are often in high-stress situations.

Prop 11 would require annual mental health education and coverage in insurance plans. It also requires private ambulance operators to maintain high enough staff levels to generally provide coverage for breaks.

Unfortunately, emergencies are frequent occurrences of daily life. It is critical that we are provided with well-trained and responsive staff, as they could be the difference between life and death. For the sake of our public safety throughout the state of California, please vote yes on Prop 11 on Nov. 6.