Durbin Highlights New Federal Law To Support Rural Emergency Medical Services

NAUVOO – U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) joined leaders from the Nauvoo Fire Protection District to discuss passage and implementation of the Supporting and Improving Rural EMS Needs (SIREN) Act. Originally introduced by Durbin in May 2018, along with U.S. Senators Pat Roberts (R-KS), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), and Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), the bipartisan SIREN Act authorized new funding for a federal grant program that supports rural fire and emergency medical services (EMS) agencies in training and recruiting staff, conducting courses to satisfy certification requirements, and purchasing equipment—for everything from naloxone and first aid kits, to power stretchers or new ambulances. The bill was signed into law last year as part of the Farm Bill.

Durbin discussed efforts to secure new funding for the SIREN Act, and was joined today by Mark Kennedy, a paramedic for the Nauvoo Fire Protection District and Chair of the Illinois chapter of the National Association of EMTs, whose advocacy efforts helped with passage of the SIREN Act.

“In many small towns and rural parts of Illinois and across the country, rural fire and EMS agencies are the backbones of the community, and are on the front lines in delivering quality emergency response services.  From responding to the opioid epidemic to treating the needs of an aging population, rural EMS agencies are being asked to do more but face workforce and geographic challenges in their communities,” said Durbin.  “I’m pleased to have passed the SIREN Act into law, and am now working to provide the funding needed for rural EMS agencies to serve their communities.”

A decline in primary care and hospital service availability, great distances between health care facilities, and low insurance reimbursement for transport and emergency treatment have all strained rural EMS agencies.  At the same time, EMS agencies today are tasked with ever-greater responsibilities—preparing for natural and manmade disasters and bioterror threats, supporting the chronic and emergency care needs of an aging population, and responding on the front lines of the opioid epidemic.  These first responders are often the only health care providers in their area and face difficulty in personnel recruitment and retention, and securing expensive equipment.

In addition to supporting rural fire and EMS agencies, Durbin introduced bipartisan legislation this year to address rural health workforce shortages. Introduced in August, the Rural America Health Corps Act, would authorize a new $25 million program that would provide additional loan forgiveness funding through the National Health Service Corps program for health professionals that serve in rural communities.