Medicine & Health

Demand for EMTs, territorial rules make patients sit and wait

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War Memorial Hospital relies on Kinross EMS, located southwest in Chippewa County, and Sault Ste. Marie’s fire department, staffed with firefighters who are also licensed paramedics.

However, the fire department is also short-staffed. There are 14 firefighter paramedics in the squadron with four open positions, leaving the department stretched thin to handle 911 calls and War Memorial’s patient transfer needs.

“We have a transfer program, but our primary mission is to serve our community,” said Brian Chapman, city manager for Sault Ste. Marie. “We are obviously concerned about the quality of health in our community, but it’s just a numbers game. When we have our own local 911 calls that are happening at a regular pace, when we get transfer requests, we have to turn them down. We’re at this crossroads where we have to make real-time decisions whether we’ve got the manpower to facilitate transfers.”

There are roughly 1,000 open paramedic and emergency medical technician positions in Michigan, according to the Michigan Association of Ambulance Services.

Ambulance services are pushing more and more overtime on workers to stay on top of emergency demand, said Angela Madden, executive director of the advocacy group.

“A typical work week is 36 to 56 hours, but in reality most EMTs and paramedics are working 60 to 80 hours per week,” Madden said. “Morale is low, and we’re losing more and more people at a time where fewer people are coming into the field.”

Madden said ambulance services typically attract adrenaline junkies, sometimes former soldiers, excited by the idea of saving lives, but the job is often more monotonous.

“It’s not all interfacing with an emergency helicopter and flipped-over cars on the freeway; much of the work is the patient transfer piece or moving patients between facilities in the same town,” Madden said. “It’s not sexy and it’s not exciting. A lot of people realized they can go to school for two years (the same length of time it takes to get a paramedic license) and become a nurse and work in a private setting in a hospital and make more money than working in a 5-foot-by-8-foot box sitting on the side of the road.”

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