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Q & A with Marc Cohen of the WI EMS Association

Marc Cohen is the Executive Director of the Wisconsin EMS Association. WORH spoke to him on Thursday, March 19, 2020.


Q: What are your biggest challenges right now?


Marc Cohen: The biggest challenge is having enough equipment and having enough resources. Same as hospitals. Personal protection equipment (PPE) is a significant issue for first responders around the state. DHS is doing an amazing job at getting out as much information as they can based on the changing situation. The info is trickling down to the medical directors of the services and ultimately the service directors.


On the one hand, rural communities tend to do less runs. They don’t have the volume of calls that Milwaukee or Madison or any of the more compact communities have. So that’s good. By the same token, these are not necessarily full-time jobs for these rural EMS workers. 


For these rural EMS workers, their kids are off of school. And they then have to go and do a run. And of course, everyone is gearing up with lots more PPE all the time. There’s the personal safety and security that they’re concerned about.


There’s a lot of extra stress in doing their jobs as EMS. There’s a combination of personal and emotional stress, just like the rest of us. They are concerned about themselves. They are concerned about contaminating their families. They are concerned about having enough equipment to do their jobs. And then there’s the concern about revenue. This is their second job, which is mostly not a paying job.


They are working so hard. Yet life goes on. 


First responders are on the front lines. They can’t use Zoom or Skype. They are generally responding in full gear to every call. Somebody falls or a kid on a bike breaks an arm. They don’t know if the callers are sick, too. They have to go and they go in full PPE.


Q: Do you have childcare issues now that schools are closed?


Marc Cohen: The childcare issues just came up. Yes, that is a concern. That’s a new concern as of last night with the governor’s announcement. Some people I know said, well, we’re just tag teaming it. You know, I’m home and my husband’s home too, or I’m going on my shift and they’re home. People are managing as well as they can.


Q: Are there concerns about EMS responder over 60 going on runs?


Marc Cohen: Yes, of course. And they’re scared too. But the way that EMS and firefighters and law enforcement first responders are wired is like this: They’re the folks that run in while we’re running out.


Q: Rural EMS was already in a precarious situation. Is this pandemic going to show how vulnerable the system is?


Marc Cohen: Yes. Remember 9/11? When they discovered that the different fire and police and FBI and all those departments couldn’t communicate with one another because they were on different frequencies and they didn’t have one standard? They put together FirstNet so now everybody’s on the same channel.


I’m confident that we’re going to see things like that as a follow up to this. In particular, one thing that’s of interest to me and we’re discussing here at the association is a compact called REPLICA.  It’s an EMS compact, similar to hospitals and nurses and physicians, where you can cross state borders under some larger federal rule that applies to everybody. Twenty states are part of it. Indiana just joined last week. Wisconsin is not part of it yet. This is a tremendous opportunity for our state because I think there will be a stronger argument for those who’ve been opposed to it to take a harder look at it and say, maybe we need to do this now. I think we’re going to see more discussions around Wisconsin and the country about things that allow us to work more easily.

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