Pa. EMS touts wages, paid EMT training amid staff shortages
“It’s just so hard to recruit and get people who can do the job,” said Suburban EMS Director of Operations Tim Werkheiser
NORTHAMPTON COUNTY, Pa. — A major emergency medical services provider in Northampton County is so eager for help, they’ll hire you while you train for eight weeks to become an emergency medical technician.
COVID-19 is putting a strain on the entire health-care industry, and ambulance services are no exception.
“It’s just so hard to recruit and get people who can do the job,” said Suburban EMS Director of Operations Tim Werkheiser.
EMTs start the lifesaving process when ambulances respond and ride with patients on the way to the hospital.
The workforce is stressed by the increased COVID-related calls. Some EMTs have to quarantine after exposure, which means the rest of the squad has to pick up the slack. Squads were already understaffed before the pandemic, Werkheiser said.
They’re trying to bring on more people by volunteering to pay them as EMTs while they complete their eight-week training program. They have to work as an EMT for at least 18 months in order to benefit from the free training.
The daytime program will have you in class for seven hours Monday through Thursday with a 12-hour shift on Friday riding in an ambulance putting into practice what you learned in the classroom.
The squad needs about a dozen more EMTs and that’s after cutting back the number for its full complement. Suburban EMS covers 19 municipalities in Northampton and Monroe counties.
It’s not an easy job. You’ll work nights and weekends. EMTs freeze in the cold, then sweat in ambulances with the heat blasting to accommodate patients. If you get carsick easily, it’s not the job for you.
So why do it? Because you can make a difference in people’s lives.
“You’re going to have your days that it is the most rewarding thing you ever do,” Werkheiser said.
You’re often the first person to arrive to comfort a car accident victim or the spouse of a person who passed out. The spouse thinks his wife is near death when in fact she has low blood sugar. You’re in a position to educate that family on diabetes and provide tremendous relief in a crisis.
“There are people who are extremely grateful for the care we provide,” Werkheiser said. “It gives them some relief from anxiety.”
When you’re hired a an EMT, Suburban EMS pays for your uniform and you get immediate sick time. EMTs start at $18 an hour. Paramedics get $26 an hour. Paramedics require more skills. If you want to be a paramedic, Werkheiser suggests you start out as an EMT and see how you fare. Suburban EMS will pay for your paramedic training if you find that the job is for you. That training takes about a year and is conducted through Lehigh Valley Health Network.
“I would love to have more paramedics,” Werkheiser said. “I don’t even know how to recruit more.”
The Easton Emergency Squad is also looking for EMTs, according to Director of Operations Ashlee Vaughn. They can’t pay you while you train, although they can hook you up with a program that covers your training as long as you volunteer in Northampton County. Easton’s squad covers the city, Glendon and Williams Township.
She encourages people studying to become doctors, physician assistants or nurses to gain experience working as an EMT.
“We do make a big difference in people’s lives,” Vaughn said.
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