On August 2, VACo staff attended the quarterly meeting of the State EMS Advisory Board in Richmond. This Board is a group of 28 Governor’s appointees who serve as a formal liaison between the public and the Virginia Office of Emergency Services (OEMS), a division within the Virginia Department of Health (VDH). VACo’s representative on the Board is Gary Tanner of Appomattox County.
During the meeting of the Board’s Communications Committee, discussion focused on OEMS’s strategic initiative to promote Emergency Medical Dispatch (EMD) standards and accreditation among all 911 Public-Safety-Answering-Points (PSAP’s) statewide. EMD is a systemic program of handling medical calls that allows trained telecommunicators to determine the nature and priority of the call, dispatch the appropriate response, and give the caller appropriate instructions to help treat the patient until a responding EMS unit arrives on the scene. OEMS currently maintains an EMD accreditation program for PSAPs and emergency dispatch centers to promote training and standards established by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHSTA).
Currently, approximately 91.6% of Virginia’s population is served by EMDs when they place an emergency call to a PSAP. OEMS staff and members of the committee have expressed concern regarding the remaining approximately 712,000 Virginians living in approximately 40 localities without access to EMD service, the concern being one of equity of access to service – the outcome of a Virginian experiencing a medical emergency should not necessarily be impacted by the location in which it occurs.
While there are clear benefits to EMD services including the initiation of pre-hospital care before or during EMS dispatch and improved patient outcomes, barriers to EMD implementation remain, two of the largest being local budget constraints and program maintenance cost once implemented. As with many enhanced services, required staff training and renewal of accreditation come with fiscal impacts to local budgets.
Although legislatures in nearly 20 states have mandated EMDs at all PSAPs within their jurisdictions, there is no current mandate in Virginia. VACo expressed concern about the potential for new unfunded mandates and the need to examine collaborative solutions between state and local government. This could include the expansion of existing state financed funding opportunities and/or the creation of new ones.
The Board also discussed the latest round of funding opportunities available through the Virginia Rescue Squad Assistance Fund (RSAF), which among other services can be used for EMD implementation and training. This is a multi-million-dollar matching grant program for Virginia governmental, volunteer and non-profit EMS agencies and organizations to provide financial assistance based on financial need. Eligible applicants include nonprofit licensed EMS agencies and other Virginia EMS organizations operating on a nonprofit basis exclusively for the benefit of the general public pursuant to the Code of Virginia. The funds are primarily used for EMS equipment and vehicles along with EMS programs and projects.
The program has two grant cycles per year, a spring and a fall cycle. For the spring cycle the awards were announced on July 1 and over $4 million will be awarded to various recipients. The current fall cycle opened on August 1 and closes on Monday September 16.
VACo Contact: Jeremy R. Bennett