Michigan EMS seeks more funding during Appreciation Week, amid staffing shortages
Denton Township Ambulance Service provides 24 hour service to up to four townships in County Roscommon. And right now, they’re down for a paramedic.
The staffing shortage is being felt by agencies across the state. The Michigan Association of Ambulance Services (MAAS), a trade association, says the agencies are short of 1,000 full-time paramedics and emergency medical technicians (EMTs) statewide.
This adds extra stress to the staff which makes the difference.
“They end up covering extra shifts,” says Richard Dupon, chief of EMS for the Denton Township Ambulance Service. “You start working three or four shifts a week. You work 72 to 96 hour work weeks.
Staffing has been an issue for several years according to emergency officials. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the problem, with first responders and potential recruits being offered fast food jobs with similar pay.
“We had to raise our salaries for our paramedics to retain them,” says Joe Rubino, deputy director of Houghton Lake Ambulance Authority. “They walk past all the fast food outlets, grocery stores and everywhere else. It’s now $15 an hour and we were under it. We have now increased by more than $15 per hour for EMT starting salaries and we have also increased our paramedic salaries to align with our other local agencies.
Recruits must also balance tuition and other expenses associated with training. EMT training programs for 20 students cost around $147,000 including tuition. That’s over $7,000 not including gas and other expenses needed to get to class. For paramedics, it is triple the amount.
Paramedics are trained in basic noninvasive procedures, including the initial assessment and treatment of a patient for life-threatening injuries or illnesses. Paramedics are able to perform more advanced life sustaining procedures such as cardiac defibrillation by inserting airway tubes.
There are only a number of colleges that can provide the training. Dupon says students now travel to Midland or Mt. Pleasant for the closest programs.
Rubino was an instructor at Kirtland Community College, he says enrollment in EMS programs has been declining for the past six or seven years, so they had to cancel the program. He now teaches Gaylord classes for North Central Michigan College. There are 12 students spread across the three satellite campuses – a low number.
Rubino says Crawford, Otsego and Roscommon counties will set up an EMT program for high school students to help recruit young locals to an area where the population is more aging, which will lead to fewer people entering the job market and more service calls.
But at the heart of the shortage is the lack of federal reimbursement under Medicaid or Medicare for ambulance services. Agencies are already paying for overtime expenses, higher costs for PPE and gas.
“The reimbursement we get back from Medicare, Medicaid, insurance hasn’t increased,” says Dupon. “So that financial aspect of the fuel increases went down to agencies and departments.”
Leaders from MAAS, the Michigan Association of Emergency Medical Technicians and the Michigan Association of Fire Chiefs have developed a plan, released this EMS Recognition Week, for state lawmakers to address the staffing issue.
The package includes:
- $50 million for recruitment, retention and training programs for ambulance operations from 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 student accreditation. state or national.
- $5 million to 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 an initial state-based paramedic satellite training program and Michigan-only licensing exam.
Anyone interested in becoming an EMT or paramedic can contact their local ambulance or EMS services.