EMS leaders propose changing number of paramedics on Austin ambulances

Group is proposing to do away with 1 of 2 paramedics currently on ambulances, adding basic EMT

By Shelton Green

AUSTIN, Texas — Since the mid-90's, Austinites and residents of Travis County could always count on seeing two paramedics showing up on an ambulance during an emergency. That could soon be changing if Emergency Medical Services brass get their way when they pitch a proposal to the Austin City Council in mid-February.

Chief Ernesto Rodriguez, head of Austin Travis County EMS and Paul Hinchey, M.D. the medical director, are proposing to do away with one of the two paramedics currently on ambulances and adding a basic EMT.

"Paramedics are getting more and more difficult to find and one of the things that we wanted to do is instead of staffing with two paramedics, we want to staff with a paramedic and a basic life support provider," says Chief Rodriguez.

EMS leaders say the proposal if passed could save the agency money but all made it very clear that cost-cutting was not the main motivation.

"That is the motivation, to improve the quality of care that we provide," says Dr. Hinchey.

"We want to focus the paramedic's energy and their skills on the most critical patients and then we want to use basic providers to take care of the patients that don't need those critical skills and need basic life support so by dividing the two roles we think that we're going to actually provide better care for our patients," added Rodriguez.

A similar proposal was pitched by EMS leaders in December 2010, but that idea went over like a lead balloon when it was presented to both the Public Safety Commission and city council.

"If I were a paramedic and didn't have another paramedic backing me up I'd be very nervous and very scared," said Michael Levy, an Austin Public Safety Commission member.

Chief Rodriguez told KVUE that paramedics have 10-times the training than a basic EMT does.

Dr. Hinchey added that half of the nation’s 50-largest cities have already gone to the system that he and other local medical leaders are proposing.

"Most of our patients are not critical patients so by placing an EMT partner with that paramedic, the EMT can manage the basic patients and the critical patients can be managed by the paramedic," added Hinchey.

The proposal will be presented to the Public Safety Commission next week before it goes to the council for approval.

View the video from KVUE

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