Shortly after the murder of George Floyd, Hennepin Health Systems announced that it would update the uniforms worn by its paramedics. One concern was that the “UPS Brown” outfits in use for decades were too similar to those worn by Hennepin County law enforcement, leading to potential confusion.
The color they chose instead? “LAPD Blue.”
When Hennepin Health first announced its choice for the new uniforms, many paramedics pushed back, saying the new outfits would make them look more like police. Now that the new uniform rollout has occurred, union representatives say there’s already been evidence of the confusion they predicted. “We’ve had a huge uptick in bystanders and other first responders mistaking paramedics for the police,” says Sam Erickson, vice president of the Hennepin County Association of Paramedics and EMTs, which represents the paramedics and EMTs affected.
Last week, HCAPE shared a video of a typically chaotic accident scene.
“Try and track where the paramedics are in the rush of movement,” the statement says. “This is a perfect illustration of how these uniforms endanger paramedics, confuse patients, and provide a disservice to bystanders.”
Hennepin Health insists that the change is for the better.
“The updated, high visibility uniforms for our EMS professionals 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,” counters spokesperson Christine Hill of Hennepin Healthcare. “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.”
But Erickson says even longtime workers are reporting incidents they’d never encountered before.
“The very first day, two of our veteran paramedics went on a call to a hotel room for someone who had overdosed on an opioid,” Erickson says. “They revived him with Narcan. He was so agitated when he woke up he thought the cops were there to arrest him. They had to barricade themselves in his hotel room to stay safe.”
The new uniforms aren’t the only difficulties Hennepin County paramedics face these days, and they’re not the only point of contention between HCAPE and Hennepin Health.
“We are dramatically understaffed right now,” Erickson says. “We’ve been losing one employee every week for the past eight weeks, in part because of the uniforms, in part because of toxic management.”