KHI News Service

EMS background checks considered

EMS board wants to know more about job applicants

By Sarah Green | March 08, 2010

The Kansas Board of Emergency Medical Services asks prospective EMS workers if they've been convicted of a felony. The number who answer "yes" has more than doubled in the last five years.

But there's no way of knowing if those who have answered "no" are telling the truth, the leader of the EMS board said Monday.

The House Judiciary Committee heard testimony on Senate Bill 222, which would require the EMS board to collect fingerprints and run criminal background checks on all prospective applicants.

The proposal has been before the Legislature several times in recent years. The authority to perform background checks has already been granted to the Kansas Board of Healing Arts and the Kansas Board of Nursing, among other agencies.

EMS officials said they continue to be concerned whether the workers they certify to practice in the state are of good character. EMS workers are often left to work alone in the back of an ambulance with a sick or injured patient, said Steve Sutton, the agency's interim executive director.

The board reviews all who admit to a felony conviction, Sutton said.

The number of those applicants is growing but it doesn't appear to be tied to any one reason or crime, he said. The felonies range from drug crimes to child pornography to assault and battery and breaking and entering. In 2005, the number of applicants who admitted to felony convictions was eight but that number grew to 20 in 2009 out of about 1,500 applications.

"They're widely dispersed," Sutton said. "We may have a 35-year-old who wants to volunteer for his local service and we find out that when he was 18 he and a partner broke into a house and stole a gun."

Several Judiciary committee members said they were concerned with language in the bill that would give the board access to information about arrests that did not result in convictions in addition to other criminal history.

Sutton said certain information could be helpful to the board's investigations committee. For instance, he said, domestic violence or assault felony charges that were reduced to misdemeanors in court could provide information about whether an individual might be potentially dangerous to others.