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EMS leaders say statewide staffing shortage is worsening by the day

Michigan Association of Ambulance Services and the Michigan Association of Fire Chiefs say there are 1,000 openings for full time paramedics and EMTs in the state.

LANSING, Mich. — Emergency Medical Services agencies are looking for qualified candidates to fill the 1,000 full-time paramedic and emergency medical technician positions open right now in communities all around Michigan.

The staffing crisis is accelerating daily according to the Michigan Association of Ambulance Services and the Michigan Association of Fire Chiefs.  

"It's an emergency, it could even be a crisis," said Michigan Association of Ambulance Services Executive Director Angela Madden. "Right now the team members we have out there working every single day are tired and worn out. They're working as much as they can to make sure our communities are covered."

The EMS staffing shortage is hitting hard in smaller communities, where agencies have smaller staffs to begin with. The need for more workers is making it difficult for EMS agencies to cover shifts, reducing ambulance response times in some areas of Michigan. 

Bay Ambulance in Baraga, about 70 miles outside of Marquette, recently lost two of its paramedics, which accounted for a third of its workforce. The inability to find new staff is putting a serious strain on the remaining staff, even forcing the agency director to cover many shifts himself. 

“It is an understatement to say we are facing a staffing emergency in EMS,” said Gary Wadaga, director of Bay Ambulance in Baraga, located in the Upper Peninsula. “We’re doing the best we can, but we need help to keep our existing paramedics and EMTs and bring in new staff to ensure we can protect the communities we serve.”

The MAAS and MAFC have called on state leaders to increase funding to bolster EMS payments and increase EMS employee salaries. Currently EMS services are only reimbursed for 10 to 25% of their Medicaid costs. 

"With that low reimbursement rate the agencies just don't have the capital to be able to pay their team members appropriately for the work they're doing out there everyday," said Madden. "Nor can we offer competitive enough salaries to attract new people."

Michigan EMS leaders are pushing state leaders for a budget increase that could be used to increase pay for paramedics and EMTs to better recruit and retain individuals to the profession.

“We need to be able to serve our communities and that’s becoming harder and harder without more funds to attract more paramedics and EMTs into the field,” said Brian Scribner, executive director of Southwestern Michigan Community Ambulance Service. “Every day this problem is getting worse, and we don’t have a second to waste. The safety of our communities depends on it.”  

Complicating the shortage is the fact that a number of Michigan colleges and universities have eliminated EMT and paramedic programs in recent years. 

"Because of the accreditation process they have to go through in order to be able to teach paramedic education," said Madden.

"We could probably hire a couple dozen EMTs and probably a similar number of paramedics," said Life EMS Ambulance President Mark Meijer.

Life EMS Ambulance has around 650 employees and provides primary EMS service in 10 Michigan counties including Kent, Newaygo, Mason and Lake.

Meijer says that more than ever before, area EMS providers are working together to keep the staffing shortage from having an impact on response times to emergency calls in West Michigan.

"We're all committed to make sure that somebody gets to the scene in the best amount of time," said Meijer.

Life EMS Ambulance recently completed a total redesign of its fully accredited paramedics and EMT training program.

The time commitment for EMT certification was condensed from a six-month class into 10 weeks with flexible classes to attract new employees.

"We've got to grow quality people," said Meijer. "That way we can start giving them employment at a significant level and giving them a scholarship into our next paramedic program and keep that pipeline going."

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