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Hennepin EMS union says new uniforms will make them look like police, demand change

The union calls Hennepin Healthcare's decision to change paramedics' uniforms from brown to blue a "misguided aesthetic change."
For nearly 60 years, paramedics and EMTs in Hennepin County have worn tan-on-brown uniforms. 

For nearly 60 years, paramedics and EMTs in Hennepin County have worn tan-on-brown uniforms. 

Union members are concerned new uniforms for paramedics and EMTs in Hennepin County will make them look more like police officers, putting them in danger. 

The Hennepin Healthcare Services Union Coalition, which includes the Hennepin County Association of Paramedics and EMTs (HCAPE), is demanding Hennepin Health Systems (HHS) and Hennepin EMS (HEMS) halt the implementation of the new uniforms for paramedics and emergency medical dispatchers.

HHS and HEMS began the process of changing the uniforms after the civil unrest in Minneapolis last year, with the goal being to distinguish paramedics and EMTs from police officers, the coalition said in a letter to nearly 200 elected officials in Hennepin County.

But the coalition says they failed to do that when an HHS "executive leadership team" picked blue for the new uniforms instead of the traditional tan-on-brown paramedics and EMTs have worn for nearly 60 years. 

"Our concern is this effort has failed to separate HCAPE members from law enforcement," the letter says. "If this new uniform is implemented, HEMS paramedics and dispatchers are going to look like police officers and abandon the well-established uniform that is widely recognized in the local area by both patients and the general public."

The leadership team selected "LAPD blue" for the new uniforms, which HCAPE says will make them "look almost identical to 27 law enforcement agencies in Hennepin County alone."

"While HCAPE members work closely with law enforcement on a daily basis, our members are not police officers. Paramedics and EMTs are medical professionals and deserve a uniform that sets them apart and signals to the community what we represent," HCAPE said in a statement on Facebook.

The coalition's letter said they also object to spending "several hundred thousand dollars for a misguided aesthetic change."

"We vehemently object, considering the large group of our members forced to take pay cuts and endure the threat of layoffs during the worst health crisis in a generation," the letter adds. 

In response to Bring Me The News' inquiry about the new uniforms, the process for choosing them, and a timeline for when employees would have to wear them, Hennepin Healthcare said in a statement: 

"The updated, high visibility uniforms for our EMS professionals will distinguish them from other public safety and first responders, making them more identifiable to both our partner agencies as well as the communities we serve. They are dark blue, with wide reflective yellow side stripes for safety when paramedics are out in the street or other scenes – a color scheme that’s very similar to EMS agencies in other major U.S. cities and even right here in Minnesota. The new uniforms also offer additional size options that are better suited for female paramedics.

"There are always challenges associated with change and we understand how some people feel. Paramedics have worn the current uniform for many years - but it is important to listen and respond to what the people we serve are telling us, and then move forward with the best options. Our uniforms may be changing, but the professionalism, expertise, and compassion of those who wear the uniform will not change. We are proud of our paramedics and their 100-plus year history of service."

In the letter, the coalition is demanding HEMS management and HHS "immediately halt" any implementation of the new "LAPD blue" uniforms, instead urging a uniform color be different from the four colors for law enforcement personnel laid out in Minnesota state law: blue for police, brown for sheriff's deputies, maroon for state troopers and green for conservation officers. 

"We believe a commonsense strategy would involve avoiding these colors in any current or future uniform change," the letter says. 

The coalition says HHS and HEMS leadership have "continued to dismiss and ignore" their concerns for the safety of union members regarding the new uniforms and is working to make sure their voice is heard. 

In the letter, the coalition also demands HEMS and HHS "make meaningful and sustained efforts to engage community groups, especially those negatively impacted by law enforcement, to gain input on any current or future uniform change," and demands they provide a "full financial analysis" of how much the uniform change will cost.

According to the Star Tribune, Hennepin Health Systems announced the proposed uniform change internally last year, when it at the same time recognized the "history of pain and distrust in the medical system that runs deep in some communities we serve." The healthcare system also said the change was in response to safety concerns after paramedics said they were confronted during the civil unrest last year. 

The uniforms were supposed to roll out this spring but haven't yet, the paper notes. 

The Hennepin Healthcare Services Union Coalition includes HCAPE, AFSCME Local 2474, the Minnesota Nurses Association and AFSCME Local 977, and has the support of the Minnesota Newspaper and Communications Guild.

Bring Me The News has reached out to HCAPE for more information. 

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