Iowa Legislators Call for volunteer EMT Background Checks

By Michael Klazema on 11/13/2013

The state of Iowa may be leaning toward new legislation that would require all emergency medical technicians (or EMTs) to submit to thorough background checks prior to employment. Since many ambulance services throughout the state of Iowa are operated on a volunteer basis, and since most EMTs are therefore technically not considered “employees” in the same sense that some other medical professionals are, Iowa might have allowed potentially-dangerous volunteers to work as EMTs.

However, according the Des Moines Register, controversy has exploded on numerous occasions this year surrounding the lack of state-mandated EMT background checks. In one extreme case, the Register discovered the story of an EMT with an attempted murder conviction on his record; in another, the paper exposed an emergency medical technician with a grand total of 23 prior convictions, ranging from burglary and theft to forgery. In both cases, the volunteers were allowed to work in an emergency medical role without a background check.

The EMT background check issue hasn’t been entirely caused by governmental oversight, however. Small towns and rural communities throughout the state have been struggling to maintain their ambulance services. As a result, emergency medical services in bigger metropolitan areas have had to cover larger swaths of land than usual, working hard to support more people in those areas. This instance of struggling ambulance services has led to a relative shortage of EMTs throughout the state of Iowa and has caused dangerously long wait times for 911 calls requiring ambulances. Accepting all volunteers, with or without background checks, has been a way for small county ambulance services to keep from falling off completely.

But the controversy surrounding numerous major criminal hires is unlikely to abate any time soon. Now, state lawmakers are discussing legislation that could require background checks for every emergency medical technician in the state. The Des Moines Register even quoted one state representative who noted the alarming discrepancy that exists in Iowa, where the government recently considered a law requiring background checks for ice cream truck vendors, but where some emergency medical workers are still allowed to work with no screening whatsoever.

Indeed, it is alarming that Iowa has not required thorough screening for ambulance technicians up to this point. Not only do EMTs frequently enter the homes or apartments of vulnerable patients in the wake of a distress call, but they also are in charge of administering any medication or medical procedure required between the pick-up point and the emergency room. A thorough screening process, like one of the traditional criminal searches available through, would do a lot to assure peace of mind for Iowa emergency medical service directors. Traditional Criminal Searches through can find local, state, or federal criminal records, as well as looks at various types of offender registries, terrorist watch lists, and uncover outstanding arrest warrants.

Still, not all Iowa emergency medical service directors are letting just anybody onto their ambulance teams. The Des Moines Register quoted one director who believed that EMTs working without background checks were tarnishing the image of the industry as a whole, and that a background check law would greatly increase the safety of the ambulance service industry.


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