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John Oliver Covers Shocking Lack of Oversight of Emergency Medical Services

Give these people a living wage and health benefits.

I was today years old when I learned that emergency medical services (EMS) aren’t considered essential services in the U.S. Even more so, I was today years old when I learned that there is a startling lack of oversight for EMS during a day and age when we are suffering through the greatest pandemic in modern history. And it’s thanks to Last Week Tonight With John Oliver that my eyes have been opened to the reality of how badly the U.S. treats its EMS workers and why ambulances are so expensive.

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At the heart of it all, this messiness when it comes to EMS is thanks to former President Ronald Reagan. In the 1980s, Oliver says he “eliminated direct federal funding and oversight,” which led to a “shifting responsibility to the states.” He crushed the 1973 EMS Systems Act, “which created a new grant program to further the development of regional EMS systems.” As a result, these budget cuts led 39 states to not consider EMS an essential service, according to the National Association of State EMS Officials.

Not seeing EMS as an essential part of healthcare has led to EMS companies cranking up how much they charge you for a ride on an ambulance. It’s also led to workers who don’t have basic healthcare and some EMS companies going as far as trying to raise funds on GoFundMe. That’s a clear sign of a messed-up system that doesn’t protect our EMS workers while making it harder for those in need of hospital services to be provided with the fastest care possible that won’t break the bank.

“Finding out that EMS is not deemed essential is like finding out that most states don’t consider geese to be birds,” Oliver explained, “That’s what they are. They have beaks, wings, feathers, they rain s— from the sky, Sully Sullenberger is their Jeffrey Dahmer; they’re f—ing birds, I didn’t realize anyone was even disputing that!” And it’s made even worse when you realize that there is no federal agency overseeing EMS in the way that the U.S. Fire Administration does for their purview.

As a result, EMS workers are left out to dry, with possible employees not wanting the annual wage of 36k that is well below what police or firefighters make, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. This doesn’t even take into consideration how dangerous and stressful this job can be. “EMTs and paramedics have an injury rate about three times the national average and they’re roughly ten times more likely to have suicidal thoughts or behaviors,” Oliver explained according to the Cambridge University Press.

“As for EMS providers, we should establish a lead federal agency dedicated to them. And they should absolutely be labeled an essential service, especially because that’s what everyone thinks they are. But for that label to mean something, it has to come with funding at the local, state, and federal levels. And there is no better time to make these changes than right now when we still remember the absolute hell of what these workers went through last year.”

If John Oliver could surprise me and blow my mind on how bad EMS workers are treated, then hopefully this will sound the alarm at local, state, and federal levels that will help make the change needed. Because these workers don’t need pizza parties, wishes, or prayers. They need a living wage with health care and hazard pay as they help the U.S. get back up on its feet after the deadly COVID-19 pandemic.

(image: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver screenshot)

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Lyra Hale
Lyra (She/Her) is a queer Latinx writer who stans badass women in movies, TV shows, and books. She loves crafting, tostones, and speculating all over queer media. And when not writing she's scrolling through TikTok or rebuilding her book collection.

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