TOPEKA — A state law requiring emergency medical technicians to report signs of child mistreatment soon could protect vulnerable adults at risk for abuse, neglect or exploitation.

Legislators this week debated a bill that would require emergency medical service providers, such as ambulance technicians, to report suspected abuse of Kansans in adult care homes, medical care facilities and state psychiatric hospitals and any adults in need of protective services.

“As first responders, they are often the first ones to see signs of abuse, and so that can then get back to us because we serve vulnerable adults, but we can only serve when they are brought to our attention,” said Kathy Armstrong, assistant general counsel for prevention and protective services at the Kansas Department for Children and Families.

DCF provides protective services and supported the bill Thursday in a House Children and Families Committee hearing. The bill was backed by elder care advocates and emergency medical professionals.

Mitzi McFatrich, executive director of Kansas Advocates for Better Care, said she spoke to an EMS worker who was called to a home because an older woman was in physical distress. McFatrich said the worker discovered the woman was sitting in feces.

“She had bruises on her,” McFatrich said. “She had bed sores.”

McFatrich said first responders could come across abusive situations unintentionally, and the bill would underscore their duty to report.

“I think there’s a lot of evidence that shows that having a good, coordinated approach in terms of community care and providers does benefit people,” McFatrich said.

Many first responders already report evidence of elder abuse, McFatrich said.

Marvin VanBlaricon, vice president of the Kansas EMS Association, said first responders are “often first-hand witnesses to incidences of neglect or abuse.”

“EMS providers do their best to provide quality care and root out the mistreatment of those who cannot protect themselves,” VanBlaricon said. “We advocate for our patients by serving as the eyes and ears of our communities.”

VanBlaricon said Kansas EMS services respond to an average of 359,155 calls each year, presenting opportunities for EMS providers to prevent abuse and neglect. He said making EMS providers mandated reporters also protects them from legal liability because some have expressed concerns they are releasing protected health information.

Rep. Erin Davis, an Olathe Republican who chairs the committee, said members likely would get an opportunity to vote in the next week. She said she expects it to pass easily, if not unanimously.

“They’re one of our most vulnerable populations, and especially those who are subjected to abuse,” Davis said. “So I think any time we can just have another set of eyes looking out for our most vulnerable populations — whether it is our frail elderly or our children — I feel like that is an appropriate use of our resources.”