Sunday marked the 21st anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on our country. On one hand, it’s hard to believe it’s been so long since that fateful day, but on the other, I can still remember exactly where I was — like so many Americans — when I heard the news. Among the pain we felt, struggling to wrap our heads around what had just happened, there were also heroes who put their lives on the line to save others. That day, first responders put their own safety to the side, and acted fearlessly to save as many lives as possible. Without them, more people would have undoubtedly perished in the attacks. While we still remain in awe of their service that day, the fact is that on any given day, these folks are there to serve us in our most dire times of need, and are always willing and able to do what it takes to protect us.

In Augusta, my colleagues and I know how critical first responders and EMS personnel are in each of our lives. At the same time, we know that there are a variety of longstanding challenges they face in their line of work. One of these challenges is a workforce shortage, which has especially affected rural communities and EMS departments. While struggling to find enough employees is hardly an issue unique to EMS departments, the stakes are much higher when we can’t find folks to be there for us in our most dire times of need. That’s why this year, we passed two new laws that will help address this workforce shortage, ensure all Mainers can receive emergency care, and help departments plan for the future.

One of the laws we passed this year established a new Blue Ribbon Commission to examine the issues facing EMS departments, and make recommendations on how to improve and sustain these services going forward. The commission began meeting on Sept. 1, and while there’s no doubt these are complicated issues with no one simple solution, I’m hopeful that by getting lawmakers, experts and EMS personnel in the same room, we will come away with strong recommendations that we can implement in the coming years.

Another law we passed this year established a grant program for communities across Maine to plan for the future of EMS services in their area. This grant program will allow a department to plan for long term sustainability in a process known as “Informed Community Self-Determination.” This is where experts in rural EMS delivery work with local service providers in order to look at the department’s strengths, weaknesses, challenges and prospects for the future to become sustainable in the long term. Community members are then brought in on the process, so everyone can be knowledgeable about the current state of the department and be involved in planning steps to move forward. There’s no question that we need to plan for the future and that rural EMS departments face extraordinary challenges. This new grant program will help us do that.

EMS providers do incredible work on a daily basis. The truth is, however, they are overworked, and have faced too many challenges on their own without enough support. My colleagues and I are working hard to change that, so these folks only need to worry about doing their jobs, and Mainers can know that someone will be there to help when they have an emergency. I’m proud of the progress we were able to make in the last year and look forward to continuing our work to support them.

As always, don’t hesitate to get in touch with me if you have a question, comment or idea. You can reach me at [email protected] or at (207) 287-1515.

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