Below is an opinion column by Jay Chappelle and Dwayne Tullos:
Your loved one is having a stroke. You dial 911. It’s what you’ve been trained to do. Call 911 and the local Emergency Medical Service (EMS) will respond, evaluate your loved one and transport him or her to a hospital.
Now imagine there are not enough paramedics and EMTs in the state of Mississippi to staff all of the ambulances. Will your husband, brother, or best friend survive?
You’ve read or heard about many industries nationwide that are struggling to find employees. In EMS, the issue is so dire that the American Ambulance Association and National Association of Emergency Medical Technicians sent a letter to Congress in early October pushing for a hearing to address the shortfall.
Most other industries have the ability to pass on increased costs to their paying customers. That simply is not the case in EMS. Ambulance providers are at the mercy of insurance providers and the federal and state governments. It is these entities that set reimbursement rates, and rates have not kept up with skyrocketing healthcare costs. These first responders put their lives on the line for you, and unlike many healthcare providers, EMS serves all Mississippians – whether or not they have private insurance, Medicare or Medicaid.
We need a funding system that keeps EMTs and paramedics in our Mississippi communities, and that attracts new employees to the EMS industry. Today’s young people may feel a calling to serve others, but if they can earn more money elsewhere, how many will go into the pre-hospital medical field?
It’s a downward spiral made worse by the pandemic. EMS agencies were already short-staffed before COVID-19 gripped Mississippi and the country in 2020. Paramedics and EMTs who continued to answer the call were now confronted with the stress of being exposed to the virus, having to work more hours because there are not enough people to cover 24-hour shifts. They too, are now leaving.
We cannot wait on legacy EMS education programs to turn out employees for the ambulances. We have to start that early. If we’re going to be successful long-term, we must recruit and train our own workforce. The state legislature and the federal government must continue to focus on the EMS industry as a healthcare provider. It’s more than just the need for additional paramedics and EMTs in a healthcare setting – these highly valued healthcare providers are needed on the ambulances. We do more than drive patients to the hospital – EMS provides critical care to patients across Mississippi before we ever transport them to definitive care. We are the frontline, the first hands on the patient.
Jay Chappelle, a Mississippi resident, is the Vice President for Global Medical Response’s Southeast Group, which includes American Medical Response (AMR), Lifeguard Ambulance and MedStat EMS in Mississippi. Dwayne Tullos is a Regional Director for Global Medical Response, and a Mississippi resident.