The Education and Workforce Development Committee advanced legislation during Wednesday’s hearing which, if signed into law and the funds exist, appropriates $160,000 from the Centennial Special Fund to the Department of Education for the creation of an Emergency Medical Services Program in public high schools.
Sen. Kenneth Gittens, who proposed the bill, said the legislation would provide another opportunity for local youth and could begin to address the staff shortages in emergency medical services seen across the U.S. Virgin Islands.
The goal of the program is to “pique the interest of high school students as emergency medical technicians and build a qualified workforce,” Gittens said. “Not only helping our young people graduate with an important skill, but also ensuring that the U.S. Virgin Islands retains a source of local talent to fill these critical positions. This is the kind of early workforce development that is needed.”
The bill was supported by V.I. Fire Service Assistant Director of Emergency Medical Services Lisle Evelyn Jr., who said the bill could help alleviate the scarcity of emergency medical services personnel; a shortage that is not unique to the territory.
“Nationally, the EMS industry is encountering a deficiency of personnel. This enormous dilemma in health care has been enduring for over a decade, but the pandemic was the event that really uncovered the realities,” Evelyn said.
Existing programs across the nation are not producing enough qualified graduates, Evelyn said, and “that shortage has meant current existing crews are working overtime and dealing with the barriers that the pandemic is throwing at them.”
The heavy demand for the positions has caused government institutions to turn to high schoolers, and though the program is not new, Evelyn said the emergency medical technician “curriculum will be a pioneering program within the USVI Department of Education high school districts.”
Department of Health Emergency Medical Services Territorial Coordinator Jacqueline Greenidge-Payne was also a proponent of the legislation but attributed the need to an aging population.
“There is an increasing emergency medical need brought on by an aging population and a decrease in the emergency medical services workforce which has placed a burden on many communities in meeting demands for emergency care,” Greenidge-Payne said. “One of the mechanisms for meeting this demand is to introduce emergency medical programs to students in high school.”
Greenidge-Payne said the proposed high school courses would be taken consecutively in a student’s junior and senior year, earning the student one academic credit after completing a minimum of 160-180 hours of instruction in “theoretical content, didactic, and lab settings.”
Within the proposed program Greenidge-Payne said students would additionally earn their CPR certification and study subjects such as emergency psychology and blood-borne and air-borne pathogens.
Upon completion of the program, Gittens said students that are 18-years-old would have the opportunity to perform the National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians test and become certified as an emergency medical technician should they pass.
Though the legislation was largely supported, Virgin Islands Board for Career & Technical Education Chairman Michael François did question whether the allocation of $160,000 would be enough to implement the programs in both districts.
After being passed by the committee the bill was forwarded to the Rules and Judiciary Committee for further action.
Separately, the committee held four other bills, each proposed by Sen. Genevieve Whitaker, to develop further amendments.
The Department of Education continued its recent trend and provided no representatives to attend the hearing and testify on the five educational-related measures.
Sens. Whitaker, Donna Frett-Gregory, Kenneth Gittens, Carla Joseph, and Kurt Vialet were present for the hearing. Sens. Janelle Sarauw and Milton Potter were absent.