LEON COUNTY, Fla. (WTXL) — Paramedic shortages are a nationwide concern, worsened by the pandemic. Leon County is no stranger to these critical shortages, that's why county commissioners have just approved a new policy to recruit and retain more emergency medical services personnel.
"We have a severe shortage of EMS workers."
Incentivize and recruit. That's what the Leon County Commission is doing to help fight the critical shortage of EMT's and paramedics in the community. Commissioner Brian Welch says recruiting new and incentivizing existing personnel is major to the health and safety of the community.
“Our EMT workers are vital to that effort and do a great job and so we want to do everything we can to retain them and we also want to do everything we can to encourage more folks to get into the profession to kind of ease the burden a little bit if we can on our EMT’s and our paramedics.”
Reasons for the shortage? Medical professional opportunities in other sectors are expanding across the board, plus the increased stress of the pandemic on front-line healthcare workers.
"It's a lot of pressure on that profession and we need more folks to do it."
Leon County worked with the Florida Department of Health's Statewide EMS Advisory Council. They found an almost 20 percent reduction statewide in licensed paramedics before the pandemic hit. They also uncovered an 80 percent increase in calls for ambulance services in Leon County over the last several years. Leon County EMS Chief, Chad Abrams said,
"It takes a certain kind of person to be a paramedic and serve in this field."
In Leon County, there are only 9 licensed paramedics per 10,000 people. That's compared to 15 statewide.
"COVID has exacerbated that shortage," Welch said.
On Tuesday, county commissioners unanimously introduced a new policy that will create an EMT to the paramedic training program. This will create several more full-time EMT jobs and pay emergency personnel more for working extra shifts and special events.
"We've got to stay competitive and introduce programs to try to enhance people to come into the profession a little bit more as well as stay in the profession," Abrams added.
The total cost of this new program will be covered by unexpended costs within the EMS Division and the EMS Fund Balance. Abrams says it's a small fee that will make a major impact in the future.
"Our community is fortunate to have a number of people that really care deeply about their neighbors and want to provide great services and they do a great job and we just want to continue to support them and enhance anything that we can to make them want to work for us through retirement."
The county is also looking into creating a high school program to get students into the EMS field sooner. They're also considering raising EMS personnel pay even more in the coming years. The Leon County EMS Division will present pay increase recommendations to the Commission in 2023.
Here are some more details about the new EMT to Paramedic Trainee Program:
- 5 Full-Time EMT positions will be created under the EMS Division.
- Leon County will cover the cost of the paramedic training and certification program.
- Plus, the county will pay participants for time in class.
- Once complete, program participants must agree to a 3-year commitment to work full-time as a paramedic in Leon County.
They hope to launch this program by January of 2022.