Officials: Less than 2/3 of St. Louis paramedic positions filled, most medics leave within 2 years

St. Louis, which has seen more paramedics leave in the last two years than it has hired, is struggling to hire and retain personnel in what is on track to be the deadliest year in city history

By Laura French

ST. LOUIS — St. Louis is facing extreme staffing challenges, including a high turnover rate and difficulty filling vacant positions, according to the city's head of personnel.

Personnel Director Rick Frank told KSDK this week that only about 60% of St. Louis' 55 paramedic positions are currently filled, and over the past two years, the city has hired about 70 paramedics and lost more than 70.  

According to the city's Personnel Department, most paramedics leave within their first two years at the department, KSDK reports. 

The situation is especially difficult this year due to both the COVID-19 pandemic and widespread violence putting 2020 on track to be the deadliest year in city history, in what is already one of the most dangerous cities in the United States. 

IAFF Local 73 President Demetris Alfred says non-competitive pay is another factor affecting staffing, but that he is hopeful that upcoming negotiations between the union and city will help to improve the situation. The union will be pushing for higher pay, and Fire Chief Dennis Jenkerson said he will be proposing adding more ambulances to the department's current 12-rig fleet at upcoming city budget meetings.

The city has already passed a repeal of its residency requirements for paramedics in an effort to recruit more hires, and the health department is planning to launch a 911 diversion program in January that would send an estimated thousands of calls per year to mental health professionals instead of EMS. 

While officials remain optimistic that future changes could helping to improve staffing in the longrun, Jenkerson said he can see that the events of 2020 have had a unique impact on first responders, telling KSDK, "I can see it by the amount of resignations that I see on a weekly basis. And most of these resignations come in, not with a note saying, 'Hey, I found a better job.' It's just like, 'I love what I do and what I've done, I love the service that I provide to the city and the people who visit the City of St. Louis [but] I need a break. I can't continue to do this.'"


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