Lack of funding leads to shortage of EMS workers across Michigan
"This has been a problem that's been brewing for several years and the pandemic kind of accelerated it," said Monroe Community Ambulance CEO Ron Slagell
Monroe News, Mich.
MONROE, Mich. — The state of Michigan is experiencing a staffing crisis among EMS workers and agencies are struggling to cover shifts, which is resulting in slower ambulance response times.
Monroe Community Ambulance (MCA) CEO Ron Slagell said he is currently short only two paramedics, placing MCA in a better position than most counties across the state. But he acknowledges others are in dire need of employees.
"This has been a problem that's been brewing for several years and the pandemic kind of accelerated it," Slagell said.
Slagell added that one of the biggest difficulties in finding and keeping employees is the challenging nature of the job. He said although many find it to be a rewarding career, the pay compared to other health care professions is far less.
"Paramedics in Monroe work 24-hour shifts, so their average work week is 56 to 60 hours," Slagell said. "So by the time you equate that down to an hourly wage, it's not very high and people working in fast food are earning more than people who are skilled as EMTs and paramedics."
The state of Michigan has not increased Medicaid funding to ambulance services in over 20 years, which Slagell explained is one of the reasons EMS workers are not able to receive an increased wage in order to be properly compensated for their work.
The Michigan Association of Ambulance Services (MAAS) and the Michigan Association of Fire Chiefs (MAFC) have teamed together in order to call on state leaders to increase the funding for ambulance services.
Currently EMS services are only reimbursed for 10 to 25 percent of their Medicaid costs.
These associations have put in a request for an additional $10 million from the sate to help bolster EMS payments and increase employee salaries.
"If we're really going to address this staffing shortage across the state, we really need them to put in that $10 million so we can increase the pay and attract and retain EMTs and paramedics," Slagell said.
While the state budget is still in the works, Slagell said at this time the state has only approved a $2.5 million increase in the current budget proposal.
He also said that although most businesses in all fields of employment are facing staffing shortages currently, it is different for the EMS field that cannot manipulate rates or hours to compensate for shortages. MCA is contracted as the primary transport service for Monroe County.
"We have to be there 24/7 and because of Medicare and Medicaid regulating the rates for ambulance services, we can't just raise our rates to pay our people more," Slagell said. "We can only pay them with what funding we get. So it's really in the state's hands to be able to address this issue."
Michigan EMS has also requested a training grant from the state that would be used to get new paramedics trained and into the field quickly.
There are currently over 1,000 openings for full time paramedics and EMTs across the state of Michigan.
Monroe City Fire Department Chief Rob Wight said they have experienced a small increase in wait times for transporting services but overall have faired well throughout the staffing shortage.
"We are all paramedics here, so regardless, we show up and we start our ALS (advanced life support) care and then the ambulance company comes to transport," said Wight. "We're actually in pretty good shape."
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