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What's being done about a critical shortage of EMTs and paramedics

The shortage could lead to longer wait times and industry burnout, and low funding is a major factor
Posted at 5:47 PM, Aug 31, 2022
and last updated 2022-08-31 18:19:03-04

WXMI — They are often the first people to render care or aid to a patient, but the nation is facing a shortage of EMT and paramedic workers.

Those in the industry say it’s an easier field to get into than most would think, and they’re certainly encouraging it.

In a 2021 letter sent to Congress by the American Ambulance Association, the group noted that a survey they conducted showed recent overall turnover among paramedics and EMTs ranges from 20 to 30 percent annually – that’s 100% turnover every four years.

“It does seem to be worse than it was in years leading up to this,” said Matt Hapner, the education coordinator for Rockford Ambulance.

Hapner has been a first responder for nearly ten years and has trained EMTs for a little over three of them.

“We’re still getting students in the classes but it’s not necessarily translating to the actual numbers of people then going on to work on the road,” said Hapner. “Unfortunately, it does limit, a bit, how quickly we can respond to some things.”

Hapner says it’s not uncommon for Rockford Ambulance, on busy nights, to call other area ambulance agencies and vice-versa.

“It’s very common,” said Hapner. “We could have all the staffing in the world and if we’re having, you know, 200 calls come in at the same time, someone’s going to have to wait a little longer which is terrible.”

That was the case Tuesday night – a busy one – when a person in the Dutton area of Kent County called for an ambulance after a vehicle accident. After being told it would be around an hour wait, that person drove themselves to the hospital. Later, the Dutton Fire Chief took to Facebook expressing his frustration over the ongoing shortage.

“An ambulance isn’t just a lift to the hospital. It’s trained and skilled medical professionals administering lifesaving and stabilizing care en route. You aren’t getting that in the back of Dad’s Silverado or Mom’s Explorer,” said the post. “We are in the midst of a critical nationwide shortage of first responders.”

As is the case with many entities struggling to hire, EMS is a victim of underfunding, says Dr. Christine Brent, the EMS Fellowship Program Director with Michigan Medicine.

“Medicaid reimbursements for EMS transports really haven’t changed in about 20 years and they cover about 20% of what it costs to provide the service to the community. So every transport our agencies do, they actually lose money,” said Dr. Brent.

“If you can increase the funding, you can increase the wages you are paying your providers, and make what is a dangerous, difficult job into a job that pays an amount that matches the work that you’re doing and keep people in the field,” she continued.

Professionals are now encouraging anyone who is even remotely curious to consider a career in EMT and paramedic work. The classes, which oftentimes have financing options, typically are held only a few nights a week over the course of two-to-six months depending on the class. Hapner says many of the EMTs on Rockford’s crew work part-time.

“It’s easier to jump into than you’d think,” he said. “If anyone is interested, I’d encourage them to reach out to their local agency and I guarantee they would be happy to give you all the information they can.”