The following article is taken word for word from the latest EMSA Newsletter:
Drinking and Driving is an EMS Career Killer
By Jerry Allison, MD, MS, NR-P
The EMS Authority has statutory authority and an obligation to protect the health and safety of the public. More importantly, we care about our workforce. We care about retaining you as a licensed EMS professional for the duration of your qualification and desire to practice. Getting arrested and convicted of driving under the influence of alcohol or other drugs puts your future at risk.
But why should something I did while off duty on my own time affect my ability to work, you ask? The courts have clearly affirmed the relationship between EMS off-duty actions and on-duty responsibilities. Driving under the influence is believed to demonstrate lack of sound professional and personal judgment relevant to an individual’s fitness to perform duties of a paramedic or EMT. According to California Health and Safety Code, division 2.5, section 1798.200, the following acts shall be considered evidence of a threat to the public health and safety and may result in the denial, suspension, or revocation of a certificate or license issued under this division…and includes, but is not limited to:
- Conviction of any crime which is substantially related to the qualifications, functions, and duties of prehospital personnel;
- Addiction to, the excessive use of, or the misuse of, alcoholic beverages, narcotics, dangerous drugs, or controlled substances.
Here are some facts:
- More than 50% of all the enforcement actions taken by the EMS Authority against paramedic licenses are for alcohol-related arrests;
- Driving under the influence can result in revocation of your paramedic license or EMT certification. At minimum, you will be required to undergo substance abuse assessment by a licensed addiction specialist and face licensure probation and/or other penalties;
- If a paramedic is arrested, the EMS Authority is automatically notified. If an EMT is arrested, the certifying entity and the EMS Authority are both notified.
The usual sequence of events after a paramedic is arrested goes like this:
- A DUI arrest is reported to the EMS Authority and an investigation is initiated;
- If conviction is reached by the prosecuting court of jurisdiction, the EMS Authority makes a disciplinary decision;
- An evaluation and assessment by a licensed addiction specialist (CSAM) is often made a part of the decision. After a CSAM the licensee may be cleared back to work or the expert may determine that a problem exists and further evaluation and/or treatment is necessary. If a licensee fails to obtain a CSAM then further disciplinary action may be taken which could include suspension and/or revocation of one’s license;
- The licensee will be placed on probation and may also be ordered to abstain from alcohol and/or undergo periodic random drug and alcohol testing. Incidentally, there is a new test available that can detect alcohol use greater than 72 hours (EtG-Ethylglucuronide), so immediate testing is not required;
- If a licensee does not agree with the disciplinary action, he or she may request a hearing with an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). After the hearing the ALJ issues a proposed decision to uphold, dismiss, or modify the EMS Authority’s decision. The Authority may adopt or modify the proposed decision, or decide the case itself upon the record.
A DUI affects more than just your career. When you are the subject of a DUI arrest and conviction you will be subjected to days lost from work and to loss of income. You may face fees to tow your vehicle, fines from the courts, attorney’s fees, and an increase in your automobile insurance premiums or even risk losing your insurance. You may experience a loss of trust from your family or your employer. You may lose your driver’s license and ability to travel to work. Many employers will not allow you to work without a valid driver’s license. You may also face the devastating emotional and financial consequences of having injured or killed another human (or animal).
EMS professionals are given a tremendous responsibility in caring for the public in the unique environment of the patient’s home, public and private locations, and in the back of an ambulance where the public expects a safe transport to their destination with competent, sober professionals. We are expected to maintain a higher standard than the public and even other health professionals when it comes to operating vehicles under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol.
At the same time, DUI occurs far too commonly among EMS personnel. For one thing, EMS providers tend to skew younger, corresponding with the fact that as many as 65% of DUI arrests involve people under age 30. EMS graduation parties prematurely end the careers of many prospective EMS professionals. An added factor is the pressure of the job; EMS is a demanding profession with a high potential for psychological and physical stressors, which some people manage by self-medicating with alcohol or other drugs.
It should be no secret to most that the first DUI arrest is often not the individual’s first incident of driving while intoxicated. It has been estimated that by the time a person is arrested for DUI they have had multiple episodes of DUI. Don’t wait for an arrest to be your wake-up call. If you find that your drinking is affecting your life at all, or you are unable to control your alcohol use or refrain from abusing legal or illegal drugs you should seek help immediately through your Employee Assistance Plan or contact your primary physician for a referral. Denying that a problem exists or trying unsuccessfully to solve it in private leads to further abuse, costly legal battles, and harsher penalties. It is much better to self-report a problem than to face the consequences of an accident or arrest.
If you have a colleague who may have a substance abuse problem, take care of your own – not by covering, but by helping them see and address the problem before they get into trouble. Offer help, refer them to someone that can help them, or report them to someone that can offer help. We should pay attention to each other and identify patterns that may suggest a problem before there are consequences. Look for:
- More frequent absences and tardiness
- Performance or conduct problems
- Behavioral changes/reactions
- Difficulty getting along with people
- Sloppy or incomplete work
- Forgetfulness, excuses for everything, and incessant apologies
- Frequent accidents or near misses
- Less concerned about the safety of themselves & others
As EMS Administrators, medical directors, leaders and supervisors, we have an obligation to our patients and to our workforce to be proactive in addressing this problem. We must create a culture that both educates providers about substance abuse and poor decision-making and makes it easy for an individual to come forward for help.
We cannot believe that having EAP available is enough. We must be observant and identify potential risks, educate our workforce about this problem, and provide an environment that makes it ok to seek help. This will keep our employees, our workforce and our organizations safer.
All that being said, we disagree slightly. While the EMSA will absolutely move to revoke or suspend your license, we’ve never had one of our clients lose their EMT or Medic license for a DUI. Will you have to jump through some hoops to save it? Yes. But will it ruin you for ever and send you back to community college to learn another career. No. Call us if you’ve found yourself with a DUI or received an accusation form the EMSA or LEMSA. We will help.
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