Senate passes Durbin, Roberts Farm Bill Amendment To Support Rural EMS Agencies

Bipartisan amendment will reauthorize funding for rural fire and ambulance crews to fight opioid epidemic, strengthen workforce

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Senate passed the Agriculture and Nutrition Act of 2018, also known as the Farm Bill, which included an amendment by U.S. Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Pat Roberts (R-KS), and cosponsored by Senators Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), to reauthorize a federal grant program that directly supports rural 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.  Durbin and Roberts, along with Stabenow and Baldwin,  originally introduced the bipartisan Supporting and Improving Rural EMS Needs (SIREN) Act in May 2018, which will provide grant funding through the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) for public, tribal, and private non-profit agencies in rural communities nationwide.  The Agriculture and Nutrition Act of 2018 will now proceed to a conference committee where the House and Senate will reconcile the differences of their respective bills.

“In many rural communities in Illinois and across the country, rural EMS agencies are on the front lines in delivering quality emergency response, service coordination, and patient care.  From responding to the opioid epidemic to treating the emergency 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.  “Passage of this amendment will provide rural EMS agencies with the federal funding that they so desperately need to serve their communities.”

“I was pleased we were able to include this legislation in the bipartisan Farm Bill. I have been glad to work with Senator Durbin to help rural EMS serve patients and overcome the unique challenges facing the health care delivery system in rural areas,” said Roberts.

A recent 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 Illinois, up to 500 distinct rural EMS agencies would be eligible to apply for federal grant funding under the SIREN Act

The SIREN Act is supported by the National Association of Emergency Medical Technicians and the International Association of Fire Chiefs.