A public system serves all

Our view: Emergency medical service should be improved but not overhauled

March 15, 2009

Maryland's world-renowned emergency medical system took a hit when a state police helicopter crashed in Prince George's County last fall, killing four people on board. Subsequent calls for change in the way Maryland operates its emergency medical system prompted an intense review of policies on transporting patients to trauma centers around the state and that has led to some needed reforms, with more to come. But the emergency medical system's service to all Marylanders should be preserved as a publicly funded and operated network for accident victims.

The tragedy last September did bring needed scrutiny to a system that transports more than 4,000 patients a year and raised concerns about the number of flights and the need for 12 new helicopters at a cost of $120 million. It led to changes in trauma guidelines, which in turn has reduced the number of air transports. An independent panel that reviewed the system proposed additions to the trained flight crew, some new equipment and national certification, recommendations that should be followed. But lawmakers' proposal to privatize the helicopter transport should be rejected because it would fundamentally change operations of the Maryland Institute for Emergency Medical Services Systems and its ability to serve all Marylanders without regard for a patient's ability to pay.

A legislative panel's recommendation to replace the helicopter fleet but reduce its size by two helicopters and have one fewer base is necessary and reasonable.

Accountability and efficient use of public dollars should be at the center of any system improvements. Gov. Martin O'Malley also should appoint new members to the EMS board who would bring a fresh perspective, a critical eye and stronger oversight to retain the system's gold standard of emergency care.

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