Now EMT Workers Are in Short Supply

Image credit: News & Advance

by James A. Bacon

Bedford County, an 800-square-mile county in Central Virginia, is theoretically staffed to operate six medic units. Based on call volume, the county could justify maintaining eight units, reports the News & Advance. But on most days one or two of the six are out of service because of insufficient staff to fill them. One day recently, the county had only one paramedic on duty.

The result: longer response times. Delays are potentially a matter of life and death.

The likely root causes of EMT shortages are overwork and insufficient pay, although COVID-related disruptions to training programs have also been a factor in the past year. It is not uncommon for emergency services personnel to work more than 100 hours of overtime a month, sometimes in 72-hour shifts. EMT Jason Morgan says he has not seen a merit increase or cost of living increase since 2004 or 2005. Nationally, shortages are most acute among paramedics, who require more years of education and training.

The chronic teacher shortages in Virginia have gotten considerable media attention, as has the shortage of police officers. It should surprise no one that emergency service personnel are in short supply as well.

There are working conditions unique to each profession that discourage people from making a career of teaching, police and rescue. Teachers are asked to do double duty as teachers and social counselors. Police face the contempt of large segments of the population. Fire and rescue workers face no such problems. Everyone loves them. The problem, I suspect, is that they’re taken for granted.

What we’re seeing in Virginia reflects larger national and economic trends. Over the past three to four decades, working people have not shared proportionately in the rewards of economic growth and prosperity. The upper and professional classes have enjoyed significant income gains, while poor people have benefited from a steady expansion of the welfare state. Teachers, police and EMT workers, by contrast, have seen their compensation barely keep pace with the cost of living, especially in major metropolitan areas where housing prices have increased far more rapidly than compensation. Now with inflation running at 6.8%, most working people are losing ground.

Broadly speaking, local governments can do two things to hang on to these essential workers. First, they can improve working conditions, mainly by treating these workers with more respect. People don’t work just for the money — they seek dignity and recognition for their contributions. Dial down the anti-police rhetoric. Stop second-guessing teachers. Let both do their jobs.

Good luck with that. Local governments have little power to reverse unrealistic parental expectations of teachers or the radical social movements that de-legitimize police.

The other thing local governments can do is pay more. 

Higher pay seems to be in the cards for teachers in the next biennial budget. Governor Ralph Northam has proposed increasing teacher pay by 10 percent over the next two years. There’s been talk of paying police more, too. I haven’t heard much sympathy expressed for the plight of fire and rescue workers. If the News & Advance article is an indication, though, that might be changing.

In an ideal world, local governments would find ways to offset the cost of paying teachers, police and EMTs more by paring less essential services and pruning non-essential workforce. Good luck with that, too. If we like having enough teachers in schools, police on the streets, and fire & rescue teams on call, tax-paying citizens will have to grit their teeth and pay them more.

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12 responses to “Now EMT Workers Are in Short Supply”

  1. Eric the half a troll Avatar
    Eric the half a troll

    “Dial down the anti-police rhetoric. Stop second-guessing teachers”

    Obviously the cause of the shortage centers around the Bedford County rightwing activists drive to defund the EMTs…🤷‍♂️

  2. Nancy Naive Avatar
    Nancy Naive

    Ya get what ya pay for. Don’t pay anything, don’t get anything.

  3. LarrytheG Avatar

    well – governance DOES WORK in Bedford!

    Bedford County declares itself a Second Amendment sanctuary

    The Bedford County Board of Supervisors declared Bedford County a Second Amendment sanctuary on Monday during a meeting attended by more than 1,000 residents who came to voice concerns their gun rights will be infringed by Gov. Ralph Northam and Democratic legislators in January.

    The resolution — which was unanimously approved by the board of supervisors to the applause of those in attendance at Liberty High School — is the latest in a growing number of counties in Virginia passing resolutions in support of the Second Amendment rights of residents. Appomattox, Pittsylvania, Carroll and Campbell counties already passed similar resolutions, and the Nelson County Board of Supervisors is scheduled to vote on its own resolution tonight following a rally Monday night.

    “I think we all are on the same page here tonight,” District 5 Supervisor Tommy Scott said during the meeting. “We appreciate all the support we’ve seen.”

    I wonder if they’d get a similar turnout for proposals to pay teachers, deputies and EMS more?

    1. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
      Dick Hall-Sizemore

      Maybe the county can levy personal property taxes on all those guns in order to pay the EMTs more.

  4. James Kiser Avatar
    James Kiser

    if you examine all the county and city budgets what agency eats up the vast majority of any localities budget? The school system. What eats up a fire and rescue systems budget 1. personnel and 2 equipment. Fire and rescue work an average of 56-72 hours a week. other county and city employees typically work 40.Plus you work the holidays and bad weather. Some jurisdictions have mandatory overtime. Nothing like 36 hours straight. The longest shift I ever pulled was 120.

    1. LarrytheG Avatar

      Our BOS objected to overtime. Their attitude was that you need to hire enough employees so you don’t have to pay overtime. They were willing to increase salaries to attract more personnel. They chose to do that rather than pay overtime. The problem with smaller counties is that qualified workers are willing to commute to better paying jobs if the locality does not offer a competitive salary. For all the talkl about big “bad’ top-down, one-size govt, this is really about the essence of govt – local govt… and local taxpayers… and the will of both to pay salaries to attract qualified workers. There is no one else to blame – it’s right there- local governance.

      1. James Kiser Avatar
        James Kiser

        I don’t disagree with your analysis I am just saying that schools are the 800 lb monster in the room

    2. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
      Dick Hall-Sizemore

      A 120-hour shift?! That is five days. From your comments, I assume that you work in a fire and rescue dept. I hope that you were able to get some naps somewhere in there during that shift. Still, that is a long time to be at the firehouse.

      To be fair, as I understand OSHA rules, public safety personnel can be required to work more than 40 hours per week, but it has to average out over about a month’s period.

      1. James Kiser Avatar
        James Kiser

        It was during one of the snowsstorms in the late 70’s no one could get in and we weren’t leaving by the end we were eating peanut butter and crackers for meals. Thank GOD we didn’t run out of coffee. And yes we did manage to get some sleep. I retired from the fire service in 2019 50 years was enough. Kinda before OSHA

  5. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
    Dick Hall-Sizemore

    I am encouraged that you finally admit that one answer to government’s problems is more money.

    And the current governor wants to give teachers and deputies raises, which will require additional local match. The incoming governor has also indicated support for teacher raises. But, the incoming governor also wants to eliminate entirely the sales tax on groceries, which will result in a big hit on local government revenues. Oh, the dilemma!

    Somewhat related is how this issue illustrates how the public’s expectations of government have expanded. It was not that long ago when emergency medical services in rural counties such as Bedford and Halifax were delivered entirely by volunteers. Now, those services are provided, at least partially, with local government employees.

    1. Nancy Naive Avatar
      Nancy Naive

      It used to be “We haven’t tried anything and we’re all out of ideas.”

      It’s kinda strange Bedford would be having such problems. There are quite a few retirement communities there.

  6. Baconator with extra cheese Avatar
    Baconator with extra cheese

    Train the “wrongly convicted” ex felons to be EMTs for the cities. I mean they’re all innocent and deserve a second chance.

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