A Henry County Health Center critical care paramedic was awarded the 2019 Advocate of the Year award from the National Association of EMTs for his work with U.S. senators to on the SIREN Act, authorizing federal grants to support rural EMS services.
Mark Kennedy, of Nauvoo, Ill., who works for the Henry County Health Center (HCHC) as a critical care paramedic, received the Advocate of the Year award during a ceremony at the Capitol in Washington, D.C., on April 10, for his work with Sens. Joni Ernst, Chuck Grassley and Dick Durbin on the Supporting and Improving Rural EMS Needs (SIREN) Act.
“It was overwhelming to receive that kind of recognition,” said Kennedy, the Illinois state representative with the National Association of EMTs (NAEMT).
The SIREN Act reauthorized a federal rural EMS grant program at the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA). Kennedy said it will make grants available to rural communities, whose EMS are largely staffed by volunteers.
“The SIREN Act is going to have an impact in Henry County that will be felt,” Kennedy said. “The money can be used to save lives through additional training, new equipment and recruitment and retention of EMS.”
In receiving the Advocate of the Year award, Kennedy was presented by Durbin a plaque and a copy of the SIREN Act, signed by President Donald Trump. It was also inscribed with a personal note from Durbin, which read, “To Mark Kennedy, with appreciation for your leadership and the dedication of the men and women in rural fire and EMS agencies across Illinois and our nation.”
Durbin also wrote a letter in support of Kennedy’s nomination as Advocate of the Year.
In the letter, dated Feb. 25, Durbin writes that Kennedy is an accomplished paramedic and advocate for rural EMS agencies across the country.
“I worked closely with Mr. Kennedy in efforts to pass the (SIREN) Act ...” Durbin wrote. “Thanks to Mr. Kennedy’s exceptional advocacy, this important legislation was signed into law as part of the 2018 Farm Bill. With Mr. Kennedy’s invaluable guidance and support on this issue, we succeeded in helping rural EMS agencies across the country by providing them with the funding to better serve their communities.”
Kennedy started in the medical profession as a medical assistant in a clinic 35 years ago. It’s there that he developed a passion for emergency medicine and went on to work as an EMT.
Dan Walderbach, director of EMS at HCHC, encouraged Kennedy to get his paramedic license and to eventually become a critical care paramedic.
On days when the job is overwhelming, Kennedy said he goes home and “divorces” himself from his work by gardening, cooking, creating art with pastels and getting involved with his community.
He began working with NAEMT four years ago and developed a passion for that as well. Kennedy said he was inspired to take a more critical look at EMS at the legislative level because of co-workers at HCHC who were telling him that if something were happen to them while they were responding to an EMS call, their families would be left in a financial lurch.
Kennedy said that there are also situations where first responders could better help their communities if they had the right equipment. A transport time of a patient from scene of the accident to hospital can be as much as 45 minutes — a death sentence in some cases.
“People’s lives can be saved if a paramedic in a rural community can have access to defibrillators and medications,” Kennedy said. “To be able to provide drugs and equipment on scene and taking the emergency room to them saves lives.”