High Need, Low Pay Should Not Be How We Treat Our First Responders

Ambulnz prepping for Covid-19 patients
Ambulnz prepping for Covid-19 patients

For anyone paying attention to the news these days, it is clear that Emergency Medical Technicians play critical roles in a functioning society. Their swiftness and efficiency is key to saving countless lives on a daily basis. We see now, during this global pandemic, that EMTs have become even more critical, as they are allowing primary medical professionals to tend to those who need the most care. While many view EMTs as first-responders to emergencies, this is just one example of the many roles they play in the medical industry. While there are too many people now being taken for complications due to COVID-19, EMTs have routinely been assisting patients headed to out-patient clinics for dialysis, chemotherapy, and a variety of other treatments. They bring a sense of relief, helping to ease the anxieties of patients and their families. So, why is it that the United States is experiencing a massive shortage of these vital first responders, and what is being done to combat this shortage?

According to Kelly Adair, vice president of operations at  Ambulnz, a private ambulatory service, the problem is multi-faceted. “There are several factors contributing to this issue.  First, changes in healthcare systems and an aging Boomer population are driving increased demand for medical transportation. There are approximately 250 thousand EMTs and Paramedics currently working in the US, and studies are projecting demand to increase to over 300 thousand by the year 2024,” Adair said. This means that in order to meet demands, the EMT workforce will have to grow by 20% in the next four years. Adair continued, “EMT jobs are often viewed as a stepping stone to go work for the fire department, or to get experience before pursuing a career in medicine.” The transitory nature of the workforce means that while many join each year, many also leave. “Third, there’s a general issue of job satisfaction – some people have a negative experience working as an EMT, and move on to work in an entirely different field,” he added.

An increase in demand and a decrease in job desirability indicates a situation that will only grow worse. Add the fact that many of the current EMTs that we do have plan on parlaying their work into new jobs in medicine, and this could signal an even further decrease in available staff.

The issue of EMT shortage, historically attributed to rural regions, is now affecting major urban cities as well. The New York Daily News recently put out a report highlighting the stark difference between EMT pay and other first responders in New York City adding:

“Yet while EMT and paramedic base pay after five years is $50,604 and $65,226, respectively, firefighter equivalent base pay is $85,292. While firefighters have unlimited sick pay, paramedics and EMTs have just 12 days of paid sick leave annually, despite constant physical contact with sick patients they treat and transport.

The disparity means the city struggles to attract and retain enough paramedics and EMTs to meet growing needs.”

But some ambulance providers, including Ambulnz, are taking measures to combat this dangerous trend.

“One of the key industry issues is a gap in EMT compensation.  As we know from the front lines today. EMTs are at the core of medical attention, and are the lowest-paid individuals in the continuum of care – often only being paid minimum wage without any benefits.  Ambulnz set out to change that, with an innovative compensation model that provides EMTs with the opportunity to make significantly more than the national average,” Adair said. 

“We achieved this by offering a combination of base pay, benefits, per trip bonuses, and an industry-first equity incentive plan that provides our hard-working EMTs with the ability to acquire an ownership stake in Ambulnz and participate in our company’s upside growth.  Many EMTs need to work a second job just to make ends meet – we’re creating a path for EMTs to earn a living wage and achieve a measure of financial independence. Having EMTs with us for the long-term is proof that our approach is working,” he added.

It’s not just about ensuring that there are staff EMTs available to care for patients, but making sure that they are happy, confident and efficient when lives are on the line.

“Retaining staff has a host of benefits.  It creates strong teams, builds institutional knowledge, ensures consistent delivery of our services, helps create a dynamic company culture and affords our more senior, seasoned staff the opportunity to mentor entry-level employees,” added Adair. 

“Employees who find satisfaction in their jobs and see how their efforts directly impact their compensation are motivated to run more trips and provide their patients with a better level of care.”

It’s an issue that the entire industry must face. It starts with the individual companies, but a fully-staffed and efficient national EMT fleet will only come when the job is universally treated with the respect and compensation it deserves.

In a plea to the industry, Adair concluded: “Go beyond the status quo.  Recognize the value that EMTs and Paramedics bring to the business, and put programs in place that demonstrate that appreciation.  Offer competitive compensation packages that align incentives with performance. Maintain an open dialogue with employees – solicit their input, listen to their feedback, and seek to implement changes that will help them optimize their service delivery, improve their quality of work, and their quality of life.”

About the Author
Formerly from Israel, now in Delaware, I have owned, run and worked with food, technology and politics, beginning with the MFA and several Knesset members.
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