EMS leaders plead for funding in Lansing for an ambulance system about to 'collapse'

Posted at 1:38 AM, May 21, 2021

LANSING, Mich. — Paramedic leaders in Lansing on Thursday made a plea to lawmakers that they need more money from the state or else ambulance services may be in jeopardy.

EMS providors for Huron Valley Ambulance, Tri-Hospital EMS, Richmond/Lenox EMS, and Southwest Michigan Community Ambulance Services testified Thursday before the House and Senate Health Policy Committees, explaining the difficult situation the industry and its staff are facing.

The Michigan Association of Ambulance Services and Michigan Association of Fire Chiefs are also advocating on behalf of funding. Currently, the Michigan Association serves 70% of Michigan counties and is responsible for more than 700,000 calls or 61% of ambulance transports in 2020.

EMS leaders say they can't pay their paramedics a livable wage because they are soaking up the cost of many transports they make.

"It’s painful for me to share with you this reality today. The very safety net that protects your families is near collapse. For us to survive, something must change and it will require what we would call a priority 1 or an emergency response," said Jeff White, Chief of EMS of Richmond Lenox EMS Ambulance.

75% of all calls EMS workers respond to are for Medicare or Medicaid recipients. However, those calls are 'fixed rate' meaning that no matter how much the transport actually costs, the provider receives a set amount.

According to the MAAS, the service providers may only be reimbursed between 10% and 30%. In order to provide the service, many EMS services have had to reduce wages for their staff members.

"Today, there are no more medics in the pipeline. There is almost no one left for our agencies to hire. As we sit here, EMS agencies are unable to find enough paramedics to serve your communities. This has resulted in working our local heroes still on the job to the point of exhaustion," said White.

Those who testified in front of lawmakers on Thursday are asking for $10 million that would go towards a rate increase for the calls they respond to for Medicaid transports. EMS services across the state have not received a rate increase for these types of transports since 2000.

"The thing is we can’t provide - We can’t feed our families, and we don’t get to see our families," said Paramedic Denise Pope who works for Southwestern Michigan Community Ambulance Service.

In the past, Pope has had to work 109 hours in one week, not only to pay her bills but also to keep the ambulance service in her town running.

"When we can look at an advertisement on a fast food billboard, and the advertisement is for more than what you make hourly -knowing what is expected of us - it's very disheartening. It's hard to not feel burnt out and frustrated," said Pope.

Paramedics remain hopeful that legislators are taking their concerns seriously.

The rate increase will be decided in the state budget, which is expected by the end of June. EMS leaders are also asking for $5 million for a tuition grant to train new paramedics.

READ MORE: 'We need support to survive.' Michigan EMS providers call on state to provide investment