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New legislation being pushed to empower EMTs may soon change the way first responders in California help patient get care while trying to ease the overcrowding of emergency rooms. A bill as proposed will allow paramedics to bring a patient to sobering centers and mental health clinics, instead of taking them to the ER. So should EMTs take patients to these alternative facilities to receive more specific forms of care?
Giving EMTs Options
When dealing with a situation, law enforcement personnel are permitted to transport individuals who are intoxicated or experiencing a mental health crisis to sobering centers or mental health clinics if deemed appropriate. Sometimes this is the best place for a patient, depending on the specific circumstances. However, under current state law in California, Emergency Medical Technicians (or EMTs) and paramedics must bring patients to the emergency room.
Some argue that requiring EMTs and paramedics to transport these patients to the ER is not only contributing to overcrowding in emergency rooms but also it is often not the best place for them. Los Angeles County Supervisor Janice Hahn is one of many who believes this is a “common sense” option for EMTs. Hahn states,
“The bottom line is that if people like you and I can take an individual to a sobering center or a mental health urgent care center, why can’t a highly trained medical professional do the same?”
Supervisor Janice Hahn has sponsored the new bill, hoping to give EMTs more options that better serve the individual. Hahn states,
“Our mental health urgent care centers and the sobering center at Skid Row were designed to provide humane, compassionate care, tailored to meet the needs of their patients,”
In cases involving law enforcement, this option allows police to choose specialized facilities instead of booking people in jail. This allows for people who may be dealing with alcohol, drugs or mental health issues to sober up and receive on-the-spot treatment without facing charges. According to Hahn, California paramedics and EMTs have their hands tied, and it is impacting hospitals and individuals.
Assembly Bill 1795
The new legislation is Assembly Bill 1795. This proposal would allow local emergency medical services agencies to lay out plans for transporting patients to:
- Designated behavioral health facilities
- Sobering centers that meet specific standards
Keep in mind, these patients will have to meet specific criteria in order to qualify. The bills recently amended language also states:
The bill would authorize a city, county, or city and county to designate, and contract with, a sobering center to receive patients, and would establish sobering center standards.
However, the bills current language also states that patients can instruct EMTs to take them to the emergency room and that it does not authorize them to initiate an involuntary detention of the patient.
This legislation also has support from Assemblyman Mike Gipson. He wrote an op-ed in February for the Compton Herald to support the measure. Gipson states,
“No one will deny that our emergency rooms are drastically over-crowded. Although they may be well-equipped to handle trauma, disasters or emergency physical health conditions—they are not as well-equipped to serve patients who have mental health care needs or substance abuse problems.”
Recently, Hahn herself planned a trip to Sacramento to advocate for the bill. And she isn’t the only one getting behind it. The bill is also co-sponsored by:
- Los Angeles County
- California Hospital Association
- California Ambulance Association
Another supporter of the proposal is Mitch Katz, the director of the county’s Department of Health Services. Katz points out that not only could this give EMTs the power to take patients to a more suitable facility, but that these options can also be much less expensive than taking patients to an emergency room.
While hospitals, EMTs and paramedics are a crucial part of saving lives in cases of overdose and other emergencies, when it comes to getting people a means to effective treatment unique to their needs, there are better options. Giving EMTs a resource to offer substance abuse and mental health treatment options could make a huge difference in the fight against addiction. Anything that connects people with effective treatment is an important step in the right direction.
We want to hear what you think- should EMTs take patients to sobering centers and/or mental health clinics?
Communities in many other parts of the country have begun to work on better ways to connect people struggling with substance abuse or mental health conditions with specialized treatment. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free now.
CALL NOW 1-800-951-6135
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Author: Shernide Delva
When tragedy strikes, most people will run away from it. Only a select few are trained to run towards danger. They are first responders: Firemen, police officers, EMT, and combat veterans deal with death and violence on a daily basis. Seeing horrific images and pain is all parts of a day’s work. They are the first to respond. They are our first and only hope.
So it should come to no surprise that first responders often suffer from PTSD, addiction, depression and mental illness. Imagine doing everything you could to save someone’s life and they did not make it. Imagine gunshots, blood everywhere. You only have seconds to react and save a life. Sometimes you may have to save yourself. After a longs day work, your job is complete for the day. You go home. Then what?
Despite the traumatic work that first responders deal with on a regular basis, they often are the last ones to talk about the psychological impact of their occupations. Experiencing terrible accidents day after day can lead first responders to addiction. They seek solace by using substances and abuse alcohol and drugs. If untreated, some can go further down a path of destruction. Most are too afraid to ask for help so they keep their problems locked up inside. Many feel there is no hope for them. They fear showing weakness so they mask it with strength while self-medicating.
After witnessing terrible incidents day by day, first responders may seek solace through abusing substances even if they had no addictions prior. If they do have issues with drugs and alcohol, many times their profession makes their condition worse.
Many articles are recommending that first responders receive specialized treatment options tailored to their needs. There are treatment centers that offer specialized programs for first responders that combine peer support with clinical evidence-based treatment.
Some departments offer mandatory debriefings but many do not provide any support at all for those suffering. It is recommended that first responders seek a solid support group even if they are not consumed by addiction. Most first responders do not feel comfortable with outsiders because they feel admitting to help will result in losing their profession.
Clare Seletsy is the clinical coordinator for the First Responders Addiction Treatment Program at Livengrin Foundation. Her treatment center approaches first responders in a specialized way. She believes that there are many reasons that deter first responders from receiving treatment:
“In addition to the stress and trauma on the job, lack of trust in mental health professionals, their training to never surrender, hyper-masculinity and the drinking/enabling culture, there is also the heightened potential for physical injury on the job. “
Prescription drug abuse is major problem among first responders. Because first responders often get injured from their duties, doctors are easy to prescribe pain killers. They often acquire easier access to drugs due to the regard they receive in their position. Even when first responders are prescribed drugs to take as needed, they are very prone to start abusing that medication.
Alcohol abuse is also extremely common in the field. Alcohol is used by first responders to deal with the emotional trauma experience when handling tragic situations on a daily basis. The fear of losing their jobs prevents most from seeking help from their addiction.
When looking for an effective treatment program for addiction, first responders should ensure there are:
- Thorough physical and psychological evaluations
- Medically supervised inpatient detox
- Specialized rehab options for first responders broken into select programs depending on their profession
- Aftercare and professional and disciplinary assistance
- PTSD therapy
- Anger management
The tough guy persona that first responder’s feel they must adhere to is deterring many from seeking treatment. Here are some shocking stats:
- Firefighters: Up to 29% if firefighters engage in alcohol abuse.
- Police: 25% believe drinking to be part of the norm yet 25% have been affected negatively by the drinking of other coworkers.
- EMTs: EMTs have the highest rate of alcohol and drug abuse. It’s been revealed that 40% engage in high risk alcohol abuse and close to 20% experience PTSD.
As you can see, alcohol and drug abuse is a serious issue affecting the first responder’s profession. There are many ways you can help.
Palm Partners has decided to sponsor The Harringan Foundation in its efforts to help first responders with addiction and mental health issues. The First Annual Run to the Rescue 5K and Walk will occur on February 6, 2016. Proceeds from the race will benefit the treatment of first responders suffering from addiction and/or trauma disorders. If you would like to participate or find out how you can donate to the cause, check out the race’s official Facebook page.
No first responder should have to stop doing their job because of the disease of addiction. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free 1-800-951-6135