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Pa. launches $1M tuition reimbursement program for EMTs, paramedics

Funding from the Fireworks Tax Act will be used to reimburse EMS personnel, agencies for recruitment, retention programs


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By Anya Sostek
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

HARRISBURG, Pa. — A new state program will provide $1 million per year for the next three years to reimburse Emergency Medical Service workers for their training expenses and EMS agencies for recruiting and retention programs.

“We are excited,” said Chris Dell, chief of the McCandless/Franklin Park ambulance authority and former chair of Allegheny County EMS Council, noting that one of the paramedics at McCandless/Franklin Park has already applied for reimbursement. “There are folks that are currently in EMT programs throughout the region that will hopefully be able to tap into it, and we are also excited that if we have folks considering it, this would be an incentive for them to attend.”

Funded with money from the Fireworks Tax Act. Pennsylvania residents who got certified as emergency medical responders, emergency medical technicians, advanced emergency medical technicians or paramedics after July 1, 2023, are eligible.

EMS agencies are also eligible for $1,1250 per year in reimbursement for recruitment and retention programs. The McCandless/Franklin Park ambulance authority plans to use those funds for its wellness program to incentivize health and exercise, said Mr. Dell.

The program aims to address shortages of workers in some EMS agencies across the state.

[RELATED: Proven recruitment and retention strategies]

Across Pennsylvania in 2021, 4,053 EMS certifications were not renewed, with 2,606 of those representing EMTs. Of those expired EMT certifications, 43.83% belonged to people under the age of 30.

“The Shapiro-Davis administration is committed to helping people enter and remain in this vital profession,” said Acting Secretary of Health Debra Bogen in a statement, “and this tuition assistance program supports these workforce efforts.”

EMS agencies face staffing pressures in part because volunteer EMS participation is down, said James Houser, president of the Center for Emergency Medicine of Western PA, and in part because of increased wages in fields outside of health care.

The upfront cost of training has also been a deterrent.

“Prior to this new tuition program, options were limited for support,” he said. “Many of the programs fall outside of traditional tuition reimbursement or student loan eligibility.”

The Center for Emergency Medicine has been developing a program to pay EMTs while they are receiving their training. Earlier this month, the City of Pittsburgh launched a similar program: the Freedom House EMT Training Academy, named to honor Pittsburgh’s groundbreaking African-American paramedic service.

Through the program, emergency medical responders will be eligible for $300 in reimbursement, emergency medical technicians will be eligible for $800, advanced emergency medical technicians will be eligible for $1000 and paramedics will be eligible for $5000. A ballpark cost for an EMT class is around $800, said Mr. Dell, while a paramedic course might cost between $7000 and $10,000.

“All of the agencies are looking at ways of battling what is often seen as a staffing crisis,” said Mr. Dell. “We are excited that funding is available for as long as it is available.”

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