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Momentum slows on Austin/Travis County EMS bill

Wednesday, May 6, 2015 by Audrey McGlinchy, KUT

A bill that supporters say would bring more transparency to the way Austin/Travis County Emergency Medical Services workers are decredentialed has slowed after some unanticipated momentum.

Austin/Travis County Emergency Medical Services Association President Tony Marquardt has been trying to reform the rights granted to EMS workers who lose their credentials. Because Texas is a delegated practice state, EMS workers are able to practice under their medical director’s license. Currently, the organization’s medical director has the sole right to remove workers’ credentials, or the paperwork that permits them to work with a certain local entity. (That is different from a license, which the state issues.)

Although the medical director cannot terminate an employee, workers without credentials no longer fit the job description and would likely lose their jobs. In this case, EMS workers do not have the ability to appeal. A bill written by Texas House Rep. Celia Israel (D-Austin) aims to install an appeal process in which EMS workers can have their cases mediated by the State Office of Administrative Hearings, which also handles medical malpractice cases.

The bill cleared the House Committee on Urban Affairs in late April on a 4-2 vote, with one lawmaker absent. But the bill is still waiting to get on the House’s calendar.

“It wasn’t supposed to get a hearing, and then it did,” Marquardt told the Austin Monitor. “It wasn’t supposed to clear committee, and then it did. But I realize this is late in the session.”

Marquardt said this bill brings the rights of EMS workers in line with other medical professionals, such as doctors and nurse practitioners. “People have a right to due process,” he told the Monitor. “Just saying you have due process isn’t enough.”

Marquardt testified in support of the bill at the House committee.

Dr. Paul Hinchey, medical director for Austin/Travis County EMS, testified against the bill. Hinchey told lawmakers that in rare cases, EMS workers are negligent and endanger patients.

“What this bill does in essence is eliminate some of the laws designed to protect patient safety,” Hinchey told the committee. “It takes the medical director’s decision on the clinical competence of a provider and makes it subject to review of an administrative law judge. In the end, what this can do is pressure a medical director to put providers back into practice that pose a potential risk to patient safety.”

Hinchey added that he has tried to design a solution that would not require state lawmakers’ approval: a peer review committee. However, according to Marquardt, Hinchey would sit on that committee. Funneling these cases instead through the State Office of Administrative Hearings would ensure that a third party gets a chance to weigh in.

The Monitor could not reach Israel on Tuesday for comment on whether this bill still has any life in it. However, with a little more than three weeks left in the regular legislative session, and both the full House and Senate to clear, its chances are not good.

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