Opinion

Prioritizing health care, career tech and broadband

After spending the fall and winter months touring small businesses, meeting with seniors and holding constituent town halls all across the state, lawmakers have returned to the State House. For me, much of my focus remains the same: making health care more affordable, investing in high-speed, reliable internet, supporting career and technical education and standing up for Aroostook County.

 

Access to health care remains out of reach for too many working families and seniors. Rural health care providers are thinking outside the box to solve some of the workforce shortage challenges in Maine, but they need more state support. And quite frankly, our health care system allows for too many abusive practices that nickel and dime families at every turn. 

Last week, I introduced legislation at the request of Cary Medical Center that clarifies state law to allow the same person who is trained to save your life in an ambulance to save your life in a hospital as a hospital staffer. Amid severe workforce shortages in the health care industry, some rural hospitals like Cary have explored hiring emergency medical technicians and paramedics to fill these gaps by working within their scope of training. Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs) are professionally trained individuals with critical skills to care for patients in a hospital setting. There is some confusion about whether they can work as a hospital staff member with their credentials. By passing this legislation we can update our laws and clarify the role of an EMT employed within a hospital, allowing them to practice at the highest level of their training.

However, this is only one piece of legislation. Patients depend on a robust health care system in all corners of our state. For my part, I have joined with Gov. Janet Mills and Speaker Sara Gideon on legislation to take the health insurance exchange out of D.C. and put it in the hands of Maine people. I’m also working to see our prescription drug reform package get off the ground. The next step for our prescription drug importation program is for the Maine Legislature to adopt rules and for Maine DHHS to send our plan to the federal government for approval. 

High-speed reliable internet and good cellphone service are also high on the agenda this session. Broadband and cellphone service are no longer considered new technology but core parts of the way we access education, connect to our communities and participate in the economy. Both are essential for students to do homework, farmers to conduct businesses and seniors to get telehealth services or connect with loved ones. Yet access to these services is just not possible in large pockets all over the state, and our economy suffers for it. 

As we look to the future, we want to make Maine a place where students, businesses and families thrive no matter where they are located. Investing in high-speed, reliable service and cellphone coverage has got to be a part of the equation, especially in rural Maine. It will allow small businesses to access a larger customer base. It will allow students to get the education they need to be successful in the modern age. It will also allow more young people to stay in rural Maine and work remotely. By investing in broadband, we are investing in the future of rural Maine and our statewide economy. 

Looking to the future, we must also recognize the role career and technical education plays in strengthening our workforce and providing young people with good-paying jobs here in Maine. It’s also critical to addressing our current and impending workforce shortages. Yet, these programs remain underfunded and underappreciated. Many of them are operating with outdated equipment and not enough funding. It’s high time we change that. I’m proud to be co-sponsoring legislation to help career technical centers purchase the latest equipment so students can transition seamlessly from the classroom to the workforce.

If you have any questions, concerns or ideas, please don’t hesitate to email me at Troy.Jackson@legislature.maine.gov or call my office at 207-287-1500 or via email at SenTroy.Jackson@legislature.maine.gov.

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