A statewide shortage of paramedics is impacting Delta Township, which is short-staffed five people, Fire Chief Gregg Ginebaugh said.
“We’re not getting recruits or paramedic students or EMT students like we use to,” Ginebaugh said. “It used to be we could get several dozen people applying for a job, now when we post we’re lucky if we get one or two.”
Due to lack of paramedics, it’s a constant battle of “browning out” the three stations within the township. Ginebaugh said the department covers 108 square miles and if even one paramedic calls in sick, he may have to close a station.
Ginebaugh said it’s not just Delta, but other neighboring communities like Lansing and Grand Ledge also are experiencing a shortage of paramedics.
“We might get four calls and have to call our neighbors to help us out,” Ginebaugh said.
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Delta firefighter paramedic Robert Urburtis said the shortage puts a burden on the rest of the staff.
“The only real stop-gap solution is the offering overtime to meet the minimum staffing levels,” Urburtis said. “It is not unheard of for some of our employees to be working 500 or more hours of overtime in a year.”
Urburtis said this not only affects the staff, but their families. With all of this overtime, it means less time spent with loved ones.
He said along with the burden of long hours, he thinks pay is a factor in the shortage. According to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average pay of firefighter paramedics is $52,500.
“Not everything comes back to wages, but unfortunately the wages have stagnated in the field largely due to very few changes in the insurance reimbursement schedule,” Urburtis said.“They approved the first change to the Medicaid reimbursement schedule since I’ve been in the field, so at least 15 years.”
Urburtis hopes an increase in reimbursement rates by Medicaid and other insurers will help employers raise wages, creating a greater incentive for people to become paramedics.
Delta firefighter paramedic James Fitzsimmons said pay and benefits is often one of the first things prospective hires consider when they scope out Delta Township’s fire department and other neighboring departments.
“The idea of the shortage of paramedics is a part of the bigger puzzle,” Fitzsimmons said. “It’s also the number of applicants, the retention rate and turnover rate. Those all play into the big picture of why we are understaffed.”