Ambulance services face national paramedic shortage

Counties, universities, and private companies are working together to reach out to high school and college students about the industry and offer training programs


Kate Snyder
The Blade, Toledo, Ohio

HOWELL, Mich. — Ambulance services in Michigan are working to improve recruitment efforts to hire more paramedics because of a state and nationwide staffing shortage — largely due to high employee turnover and low pay rates.

Counties, universities, and private companies are working together to reach out to high school and college students about the industry and offer training programs to get people interested, the Livingston Daily Press & Argus reported.

One reason the industry is struggling to attract employees is because of the low beginning pay rate. In 2017, EMTs in Michigan made about $15.56 an hour, which is about $32,300 a year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. That same year, in Ohio, the average wage for paramedics was $31,410. (Photo/Pixabay)
One reason the industry is struggling to attract employees is because of the low beginning pay rate. In 2017, EMTs in Michigan made about $15.56 an hour, which is about $32,300 a year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. That same year, in Ohio, the average wage for paramedics was $31,410. (Photo/Pixabay)

The number of students graduating from paramedic training in the state has dropped from 1,200 per year to 250 in the past three years, according to the Michigan Bureau of EMS, Trauma, and Preparedness.

Despite the shortage at a national and state level, some local departments haven’t been affected by it.

Fire Chief Adam Massingill, with the Bedford Township Fire Department, said his department has nine paramedics on staff with another four people going through the training to become paramedics. In the past year, he said the department’s emergency medical technicians — or EMTs  — began getting certified as paramedics to better serve the community.

EMTs are generally more limited in how they’re allowed to help patients compared to paramedics, who have more training. 

The department’s EMTs paid for the training initially, he said, and would recoup the costs through a reimbursement program as they continue to work for the department.

He said he didn’t know why there was a shortage of paramedics in the state and across the country, emphasizing that the positions were available.

“It’s certainly not the job market,” he said.

One reason the industry is struggling to attract employees is because of the low beginning pay rate. In 2017, EMTs in Michigan made about $15.56 an hour, which is about $32,300 a year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. That same year, in Ohio, the average wage for paramedics was $31,410.

Livingston County’s Board of Commissioners last month approved an increase to the county’s pay schedule for EMS employees, said Jeff Boyd, the county’s EMS director. The starting pay for a new paramedic is now $17.87 an hour, up from $13.65 an hour.

At the Toledo Fire & Rescue Department, every firefighter is certified as an EMT, at least, and approximately 250 out of 511 are certified paramedics, said Pvt. Sterling Rahe, spokesman for the department. So while TFD specifically is not facing a paramedic shortage, he said, some smaller departments and private ambulance companies are feeling the squeeze.

“Nationally, there is a shortage,” Private Rahe said.

Part of the reason TFD has avoided it is the department trains all of its recruits in-house, Private Rahe said. The 47 recruits currently progressing through the fire academy will take a 10-week course to become certified as EMTs, if they aren’t already certified.

Smaller departments or private companies that don’t have the resources to train people to be EMTs or paramedics must rely on hiring people who are already certified, Private Rahe said.

Other issues some places run into are the sometimes-low pay coupled with high turnover. TFD sees little turnover, Private Rahe said, but every department has some.

“It’s a great job, but it’s not for everyone,” he said.

Emergent Health Partners, an Ann Arbor-based nonprofit ambulance and health transportation services provider, is visiting high schools to talk about the career, finding ways to help students pay for college while they’re training and working with universities on their pre-med program, said Matthew Rose, a company spokesman.

Emergent Health Partners also provides paramedic and EMT education programs, as well as a tuition reimbursement program, he said.

“We’ve implemented a lot of new things and ideas in the last few years to try and bring people into EMS,” Mr. Rose said.

The industry’s high employee turnover is one of the main factors behind the staffing shortage, Mr. Rose said, adding EMTs often stay in the field for about five years before moving on to be nurses or doctors.

The job’s demanding work is likely contributing to the turnover, said Denise Martin, EMS program director and full-time teacher of EMTs and paramedics at Oakland Community College.

“We deal with a lot of situations that are not safe,” Ms. Martin said. “That could be part of it. We’re exposed to violence. There’s a lot of different aspects of it. There are a lot of people, because it’s physically taxing, they’ll only do it for a number of years and they’ll retire and do something else.”

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©2019 The Blade (Toledo, Ohio)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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