EMS staffing shortage causes serious challenges for first responders

Bay Ambulance recently lost a third of its paramedic staff, causing delayed response times.
Bay Ambulance has had to expand its coverage, due to other EMS services shutting down.
Bay Ambulance has had to expand its coverage, due to other EMS services shutting down.(WLUC)
Published: Aug. 11, 2021 at 5:54 PM EDT
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BARAGA & CALUMET, Mich. (WLUC) - Emergency medical services are experiencing staff shortages throughout Michigan, including the Upper Peninsula. First responders say the staffing crisis is causing serious challenges.

Bay Ambulance in Baraga is one EMS agency hit hard by the shortage. Director Gary Wadaga says the issue has been building up for years.

“We were just kind of bleeding and holding our own, but now it’s gotten to the point that we’re hemorrhaging,” said Wadaga. “We’re in desperate need of EMTs and paramedics.”

Bay Ambulance recently lost one-third of its paramedic staff. Wadaga says the loss is causing delayed response times, as well as cancelations of community education resources, such as CPR courses.

“It becomes a vicious circle, because we need people to respond to emergencies before EMS gets there to really make the difference,” Wadaga said. “Strokes, heart attacks, and cardiac arrests are so time-dependent that slowing response times is going to be detrimental to patients.”

Meanwhile, Mercy EMS in Calumet is experiencing a similar problem.

“Our goal is nine paramedics, and right now we’re down to five, including myself,” said CEO Patrick Boberg.

Boberg believes the biggest reason for the shortage is a lack of support from state leaders, saying initiatives like the Future for Frontliners program don’t help Mercy EMS.

“We had two individuals all excited to take the paramedic course through Bay College, thinking that their tuition was going to be covered,” Boberg said. “Unfortunately, the only way that you benefit from that is if your tax dollars go to support that community college. Other than that, you get pretty much nothing.”

As other agencies shut down, forcing remaining providers to expand coverage, Boberg and Wadaga are calling on legislators to provide more educational opportunities and increase spending.

“EMS hasn’t had a Medicaid raise since 2000,” said Wadaga. “In fact, we’ve had two Medicaid decreases since that time.”

“On top of that, we’re only getting maybe 10 – 15% of what we charge, but all of our costs of materials are going up, as well as our insurance costs and ambulance costs,” Boberg said.

Wadaga and Bobgerg say improving training and funding for EMS is the best way to relieve the staffing shortage and keep Michigan communities safe.

If you are interested in working for Bay Ambulance, EMT training is required. Wadaga says training courses will be available this fall. To learn more, he advises those interested to contact their local EMS agency.

To apply for a job with Mercy EMS, visit mercyems.com. Boberg says those interested are welcome to stop by the Mercy EMS office at 23298 Airpark Boulevard. Visitors are welcome from 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. Monday through Friday.

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