Pa. city EMS agencies struggle to fill positions

Local emergency crews are now seeking qualified candidates to fill these positions, but say the demand for the jobs greatly outweighs the number of applicants


By Ronald Fisher
The Tribune-Democrat, Johnstown, Pa.

NORTHERN CAMBRIA, Pa. — A nationwide shortage of emergency medical services personnel continues to make an impact locally as job postings for the positions continue to pop up.

Local emergency crews are now seeking qualified candidates to fill these positions, but say the demand for the jobs greatly outweighs the number of applicants.

Med-Van Transport  Vice President James Smith said "due to the shortages right now, we have several ambulances sitting because we don’t have enough staff to perform the work." (Photo/Med-Van Transport)
Med-Van Transport Vice President James Smith said "due to the shortages right now, we have several ambulances sitting because we don’t have enough staff to perform the work." (Photo/Med-Van Transport)

“The need for services continues to grow and unfortunately the (number) of trained personnel declines,” said Med-Van Transport Vice President James Smith. “We have openings right now for probably 15 to 20 EMS personnel.

“We have a lot of services we can’t even meet with the demand,” he said. “We have 130 vehicles on the road, 14 of which are ambulances, and quite honestly due to the shortages right now, we have several ambulances sitting because we don’t have enough staff to perform the work.

“It’s not that we don’t have the need for the work, we just don’t have the personnel.”

As emergencies, such as car accidents, natural disasters and acts of violence, continue to require the skills of emergency medical technicians and paramedics, employment of these positions is projected to grow 7% from 2018 to 2028, faster than the average for all occupations.

Smith attributes the shortage of EMS personnel to wages, training time and costs, and testing.

“Truly, the state needs to consider some changes in the programs to get people back into it,” Smith said. “Fire and EMS, EMS standalone and nonemergency services are extremely short on personnel.

“I don’t think there’s any ambulance station that you’ll find that’s not hiring personnel right now,” he said. “Everyone is looking.”

Cause and effect

Art Martynuska, the Cambria County Department of Emergency Services’ EMA deputy director, deals with the issue at the county level. The deputy director said he sees firsthand how the national shortage of EMS candidates and paramedics is taking a toll on local emergency service providers.

“It may be a little bit difficult to quantify, but the available workforce is down,” Martynuska said. “There’s been a lot more people who have given up their certifications and are receiving new certifications, so there’s an attrition factor. Between different parts of the state there’s also a lot of wage disparity.

“You also see the costs for training have increased, which is the fault of nobody; it’s just the system.”

Medical professionals who respond to 911 calls and treat and transport people in crisis situations are in demand, and according to Martynuska, there’s an even bigger need to make these positions more attractive to qualified candidates.

“You’re going to have to identify the workforce and what their needs and wants are,” Martynuska said. “Is it a situation where it’s better pay? Is it a situation where it is benefits? A combination of both? How do you attract anybody to any job?

“People love what they do in emergency services – fire, police, EMS – but you also have to earn a living.”

According to the bureau of labor statistics, the national median pay for EMTs and paramedics in 2018 was $34,320, or $16.50 an hour.

And while the need to fill these positions locally has seen its challenges in recent years, the state of Pennsylvania is currently listed as one of the states with the highest employment level in this occupation.

“There’s definitely work out there, most of the time we’re hiring paratransit drivers as well,” Smith said. “We have over 200 employees now and are pretty much always hiring, EMS particularly.

“The work is out there,” he said. “It’s just finding the right people who are motivated and want to work.”

‘Definitely a crisis’

Smith remains optimistic that he and other local EMS providers will find the right candidates to seize the opportunities that continue to arise across the region.

“The amount of personnel is limited,” he said. “You pretty much have to find the individuals that want to advance their careers from wherever they may be now to become an EMT or (emergency medical responder) or paramedic, because the amount of those individuals that are trained either already have other jobs in EMS or have other full-time commitments.”

Med-Van Transport will hold a job fair from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Thursday at the JARI Center for Business Development, 160 Jari Drive, in Johnstown. Featured positions will include paratransit drivers, EMRs/ambulance drivers, dispatch/billing and EMTs.

Company representatives will be on-site during the fair to answer questions and provide information.

Martynuska said, “There’s definitely a crisis in emergency medical services. There’s some legislation that’s out there that’s trying to address this.

There’s some legislation out there that’s trying to address billing issues for reimbursements from insurance companies and from Medicare.

“So there are people looking at this,” he said. “I don’t think anybody has come up with an answer to all of the dilemmas, but people are trying.”

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©2019 The Tribune-Democrat (Johnstown, Pa.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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