Statewide EMT shortage at critical point in Lansing

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Michigan is in the midst of an EMT and paramedic shortage, and first responders say the effects of the shortage are heavily impacting Lansing.

Emergency medical services in the Lansing area have been facing vacancies in positions for months. The American Association of Ambulance Services estimates there are at least 1,000 open positions at the EMT and paramedic levels in the state of Michigan. 

Private ambulance services and municipalities have been feeling the effects of employee shortages for a few years, but the pandemic has seemed to worsen these issues, said Angela Madden, executive director of the Michigan Association of Ambulance Services.

“The staffing shortage has been increasing, I would say probably for over a decade,” Madden said. “The pandemic has really exacerbated it and really made it more visible.”

While Lansing has yet to experience any major response time issues, it has resulted in other issues like a heavier workload for the department, said Ralph Ortiz, chief of EMS operations for the Lansing Fire Department.

“We’re still answering the runs. We’re not downing any cars,” Ortiz said. “So we still respond. We’re actually picking up more runs from the private agencies who have to down cars, because they don’t have the staff.”

Related: Delta Township short five paramedics

Over the past few years there has been a decrease in students attending school to become EMTs or paramedics.

Lansing Community College provides education to students looking to enter careers in emergency medical services with its EMS/EMT program. The college has seen a steep decline in students looking to join the profession over the past few years.

“If we look back 10 years ago or even eight years ago, it was very normal for us to have 30 students every year in our paramedic program,” said Marvin Helmker, director of the EMS program at Lansing Community College. “That was just normal year after year. Today it’s half that. We started back in August of this year … with 16 paramedic students, and that’s been pretty consistent for the last several years.”

This shortage of students entering programs has in turn led to fewer candidates available to fill open positions. Helmker said the result is a bidding war of sorts as private companies and municipalities compete to hire EMTs.

The Lansing Fire Department has shortened application and interview processes, but this hasn’t had much of an impact on the issue, said Greg Martin, the interim fire chief. There are still not enough people applying for jobs.

“When I was hired by Lansing in 1998 they were hiring roughly 19 positions we had vacancies for,” Martin said. “They were just shy of 1,400 applications for 19 positions with our department. With this last round of applications even with a shorter application period, we’re only sitting on like seven to nine applications.”

Madden, of the state association, said if the problem persists, response times could increase or, even more dire, emergency medical transportation could be cut in some  areas.

“We will see EMT agencies go out of business and communities not being covered by medical first response,” Madden said.

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