Working in the back of an ambulance is no walk in the park; long hours, low pay and the stress of handling life-or-death situations during a pandemic has driven many certified EMTs from the career, and Americans are suffering—and dying—for it.
Around the country, a lack of EMTs and EMS trucks is hitting communities both large and small. A recent meeting of Ohio EMS Chiefs Association really drove home the issue in that state, according to News 5 Cleveland:
“The state of the EMS industry is on the verge of collapse,” Eric Burns, vice president of Tri-Village Joint Ambulance District in Darke County said. “If we don’t do something quickly, I think EMS as we know it is going to fall apart.”
Ohio is not alone. States and cities across the country are struggling to keep emergency medical services running. Owners of EMS companies and publicly run EMS recently sounded the alarm in Massachusetts, St. Louis city officials are concerned about growing wait times for ambulances as are officials in Austin and San Diego, Minnesota saw a staggering 60 percent of its certified EMTs leave the industry. In fact, if you search EMT shortage + state, a news story from the last few months filled with dire warnings is almost certain to appear.
Beside EMS attached to a Fire Departments, many EMS trucks in the U.S. are run by private companies, which then receive contracts from local municipalities. If a truck goes to an emergency and the person declines to be transported to the hospital, the company receives no payment for their time. And declines are rampant due to the high cost of an ambulance ride. Most insurance companies don’t even cover a ride to the ambulance, and Medicare covers only a few hundred dollars, according to CNBC, leaving Americans on the hook for hundreds or even thousands of dollars. EMS companies are also suffering from supply chain issues, leading to more rigs breaking down and long wait times until a new one can be produced.
But while supply chain headaches are an issue, the number one problem is staffing. The shortages can be explained like many staff shortages in America today: incredibly poor pay and the stress of working in emergency services during a pandemic. Average salary for an EMT is around $17 an hour, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That’s it, for performing a potentially life saving job and exposing yourself to a deadly virus.
It’s not just exposure to COVID-19 that EMTs face. There’s a great deal of stress and trauma involved when your job constantly puts you in charge of life or death scenarios. The problem of PTSD among EMTs is so rampant that, in Wisconsin, there was a point when more EMTs were committing suicide than dying of COVID-19, according to WBay News.
There are just much easier ways to make that salary nowadays, ones that don’t involve lengthy certifications, sick, injured or dying patients and training as well as risking infection.