Denton Township Ambulance Service provides 24-hour services to up to four townships in Roscommon County. And right now, they’re down one paramedic.
The shortage of staff is felt by agencies across the state. The Michigan Association of Ambulance Services (MAAS), a trade association, says agencies are short 1,000 full-time paramedics and emergency medical technicians (EMTs) across the state.
It adds additional stress to staff making up the difference.
“They end up covering extra shifts,” says EMS Chief for Denton Township Ambulance Service, Richard Dupon. “You start working three or four shifts a week. You’re putting in 72-96 hour workweeks.”
Staffing has been an issue for several years according to emergency officials. The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated the issue with first-responders and potential recruits being offered jobs in fast-food with similar pay.
“We had to increase our wages for our EMT to retain them,” says Joe Rubino, Deputy Director of Houghton Lake Ambulance Authority. “They’re passing by all the fast food restaurants and grocery stores and everywhere else. That’s now $15 an hour and we were below that. We are now up over $15 an hour for starting wages for EMT and we also increased our paramedic wages also to to line up with our other local agencies.”
Recruits also have to balance the cost of tuition, and other expenses, associated with training. EMT training programs for 20 students costs approximately $147,000 including tuition. That’s over $7,000 not including gas and other expenses needed to travel to classes. For paramedics, it’s triple the amount.
EMTs are trained in basic, noninvasive procedures including initially assessing and treating a patient for life-threatening injuries or illness. Paramedics are able to perform more advanced life support procedures such as heart defibrillation of inserting airway tubes.
There’s only a select number of colleges that can provide the training. Dupon says students are now traveling to Midland or Mt. Pleasant for the closest programs.
Rubino was an instructor for Kirtland Community College, he says enrollment declined in the EMS programs in the past six or seven years, so they had to cancel the program. He’s now teaching courses in Gaylord for North Central Michigan College. There are 12 students throughout the three satellite campuses- a low number.
Rubino says Crawford, Otsego and Roscommon Counties will be putting together an EMT program for high school seniors to help recruit young, local people in an area with a higher aging population, resulting in less people in the workforce and more calls for service.
But at the heart of the shortage is that lack of federal reimbursement under Medicaid or Medicare for ambulance services. The agencies are already paying overtime expenses, higher costs for PPE and gas.
“The reimbursement that we get back from Medicare, Medicaid, insurances has not increased,” says Dupon. “So that financial aspect of the fuel increases has come on to the agencies and the departments.”
Leaders of MAAS, Michigan Association of Emergency Medical Technicians and Michigan Association of Fire Chiefs have come up with a plan, released this EMS Recognition Week, for state lawmakers to solve the staffing problem.
The plan includes:
- $50 million for recruitment, retention and training programming for ambulance operations of EMS education program sponsors. This could include cash recruitment and retention bonuses, student loan payment assistance, tuition assistance, equipment, books, fees, uniforms and dues associated with state or national membership accreditation.
- $5 million for the state to create a marketing program to promote careers in emergency medical services.
- $2.5 million to simplify the EMS licensing process by establishing a state-based initial paramedic satellite education program and a Michigan-only licensing exam.
Anyone interested in becoming an EMT or paramedic can contact their local ambulance or EMS services.