Labor shortage in the emergency medical services (EMS) sector is an enduring issue, and it’s one that can make a difference between life and death. According to a 2022 study by the American Ambulance Association, the lack of qualified applicants has led to continued vacancies in 39 percent of part-time emergency medical technician (EMT) and 55 percent of part-time paramedic positions. Consequently, the staffing shortage has led to declining on-time response rates in many places. The excessive wait time for emergency responses can potentially impact the health outcomes and recovery periods of patients who have life-threatening conditions and injuries.
It’s important to take a look at the reasons for staffing issues in the EMS sector in order to propose possible solutions. EMS workers across the nation share similar complaints about low pay, burnout, and stress related to the COVID-19 pandemic. These, in turn, have compelled many qualified EMS workers to retire or seek employment elsewhere. Considering these issues, attracting newbies to the sector and convincing existing EMS staffers to continue to be a part of the workforce can begin with the following initiatives.
Make Data-Driven Decisions and Implement Strategic Resource Management
Staffing shortage can lead to additional burdens on the existing EMS workers who may have to contend with long hours just to keep up with the demand for their services. Eventually, this can contribute to burnout, stress, and further attrition issues.
EMS organizations can help address this problem by making efficient use of their existing manpower. They can turn to EMS reporting software to analyze the demand for—and movement of—their teams during their shifts and determine the most effective way of balancing the load between their available personnel. For example, they can schedule and plot non-emergency assignments so that it will take the least amount of time to respond to each and attend to the next case. This, in turn, can free up more units for emergencies and directly improve on-time responses.
Switch to Using Neighborhood Models When Designating EMS Areas of Operations
Many EMS organizations in the US are confined to the boundaries of their counties or states. This means that an EMS provider with plenty of resources to spare cannot usually lend its free equipment and teams to another area that may be inundated with assignments. This prevents both organizations from maximizing their resources and can make timely responses inaccessible to both their communities.
One way to address this hurdle is to make arrangements for these organizations to share resources in times of need. Make it possible for EMS providers to be able to share dispatchers, supplies, resources, and even training sessions. Doing so extends the capabilities of the organizations that undergo these partnerships. At the same time, it reduces the cost of upskilling their workers and gives their local communities better access to prompt life-saving services.
Improve Benefits and Incentives for New and Existing EMS Professionals
Another way to address the staffing shortage in the EMS sector is to make jobs more rewarding. Among the top reasons EMS workers leave the field is because they are dissatisfied with the pay and benefits that come with their demanding roles. Improving these elements is key to reducing attrition rates and attracting workers to build their careers in providing EMS.
Alternative arrangements from full-time to part-time EMS work can also be helpful in getting more people to study and acquire the qualifications needed to join the field. Such arrangements can be useful in combatting burnout and stress, which tend to be at a higher level among EMS workers who have spent years in the field and those who are doing 12 to 24-hour shifts. On top of better pay and work arrangements, state governments can also look into providing EMS organizations and professionals with tax benefits. These efforts can boost recruitment and retention and perhaps inspire more new workers to build a career for themselves in the sector.
Focus on Collecting Information That Will Contribute to Operational Improvement
Collecting data is a strong point for many EMS teams, as insurance companies and government agencies require accurate and standardized information when processing the requests of their partner organizations. However, EMS providers should also pay attention to collecting data points that support the issues that they are currently facing. For example, they can collect data on missed requests and average response times. These numbers can then be used to tell a story that demonstrates how a lack of funding and support can directly impact the community. These fact-based stories can paint a picture that will compel local governments to support legislations that can address the issues that contribute to EMS labor shortages.
There’s much that can still be done to help address the labor shortage in the EMS sector, but these proactive solutions should help EMS providers manage their current operations and build their case with their community and local government. With enough support, an EMS team should be able to find a long-term solution to its staffing issues and improve the quality of service that it provides its community.