GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Front-line workers like paramedics have become even more crucial during the pandemic.
But they are also becoming scarce, and it's leading to extended wait times when people call for help.
There are about 1,000 open positions for emergency medical technicians and paramedics in the state of Michigan. Officials say it's been an ongoing issue for years, but when the pandemic hit, it became a crisis.
According to the Michigan Association of Ambulance Services (MAAS), the staffing shortage is getting worse by the day, making it difficult for EMS agencies to cover shifts. The shortage may also lead to slowed-down ambulance response times in some areas of the state.
Angela Madden, the executive director of MAAS, says the situation is so dire in some parts of the state, the EMS agencies are having to decide which call is of higher priority which is leaving some people waiting for extended periods for help.
"Right now, our staffing is at a crisis level," Madden said. "We're at a point where in some areas of our state, our EMS agencies are picking and choosing what they can do. So, if your family member needs to be transported, then you want to make sure that, that ambulance is ready and available for you, and you don't have to wait exorbitant amounts of time."
Madden added the shortage doesn't just impact the typical 911 calls but other services that EMS agencies provide like transporting a person from a hospital to a rehab facility.
Additionally, MAAS says some EMS agencies had to close due to cost and the labor shortage. Madden says they are calling on the state and asking for $10 million from the state budget general fund to help with Medicaid reimbursement rates. She says underfunding in addition to labor shortages is putting the industry in crisis mode.
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