State panel looks for solutions
November 15, 2011
By Stephen Di Benedetto
GALESBURG — On Tuesday, everyone from Illinois’ lieutenant governor to local medical officials agreed that the state needs to cut the red tape on training and renewal requirements for volunteer emergency responders.
Rural areas rely heavily on volunteer medical teams that are struggling to find workers and income to help provide a vital service.
Training requirements often complicate recruiting because the state mandates that volunteers take 110 hours of training before receiving a license.
Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon and a host of local emergency medical service members attended a visiting state legislative panel, which stopped in Galesburg’s City Hall as it continues to receive community input on the issues facing rural EMS units.
“We want to make sure we don’t stand in the way of the people who want to volunteer,” Simon said. “I think we need to look at training requirements and how we can more effectively deliver high quality training for folks who need it.”
Simon chairs the Governor’s Rural Affairs Council.
She is creating a special committee that will ultimately suggest solutions to the state legislature on how to fix long-term rural EMS problems, with recruitment topping the agenda.
Simon’s perspective was echoed by Pat Hennenfent, an EMS worker for Oneida’s ambulance service. Hennenfent pointed out that the state is increasing training hours for basic EMS workers to 170 hours in January 2013.
“Many times we like to think that more is better,” Hennenfent said. “But in this case, it means more is less ... meaning less EMTs.”
Hennenfent said a volunteer cannot afford to devote 170 hours of classroom time to earn a license, especially when the volunteer is juggling full-time work. By the end, Hennenfent’s passionate speech to the special panel drew applause from other EMS workers in the crowd.
The crowd also applauded Janet Callopy, who is an ambulance director in Williamsfield, and argued for looser training hours and renewal hours. Callopy said volunteers devote 30 hours a year to education to renew their licenses. The state also does not allow a volunteer to transfer on-the-job hours to the 30-hour requirement.
“Thirty hours a year may not seem like a lot, but I want you to think of it in terms that each person has to not only go on calls at any time of the day or night, but also find the extra time to maintain the extra hours to stay certified,” she said.
Galesburg was the panel’s ninth stop on a tour of central and western Illinois communities. Reps. Don Moffitt, R-Gilson, and Lisa Dugan, D-Kankakee, co-chair the panel, which has to recommend solutions to the state legislature by Jan. 1, 2012.