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In the past two-plus years the necessity of a skilled pre-hospital resource has more than proven itself. Emergency Medical Service response has been taxed more than ever before. If there were ever doubts about the abilities of EMS responders to plow through even a pandemic…many of our EMS staff have been applauded (at least for now) by the public. In some areas of our country, they were left to make sometimes heartbreaking, but necessary, decisions in order to meet the multitude of calls.

There were some responders who reached burn-out because of the sheer volume and seeming hopelessness of many cases. And there were some responders who got sick themselves, some even dying from COVID or its complications and dwindling our front-line fighters. Despite the tears and the hours, most of our Emergency Medical Services personnel remained committed to their jobs and to doing whatever possible to save lives, offer comfort, and give hope.

But…Emergency Medical Services as a profession is threatened by retention, mental health, and safety issues. As per the 2021 results of the annual EMS Trend Report, retention of qualified candidates is far and above the worst of the threats. Retention includes salary and pay disparity, leadership, hours, training, and employee benefits.

While most of us do enjoy the juiciness of a flipped burger, the skill set between a fast-food worker and a Certified Emergency Technician is a lot more widespread. The average New York State hourly wage for an EMT starts at $16 per hour while NYS minimum wage is $12.50; the average burger flipper earns $15 per hour to start. Training to be an EMT in New York takes about 150 to 190 hours and requires both an on-hand examination and a written test. It's a lot of effort without much fiscal stability. Many EMTs (and Paramedics) need to work multiple jobs in order to afford the basic necessities of life.

Mental health, fatigue and safety are also major concerns in the EMS workforce. Obviously, there is a lot that is seen firsthand that can remain to "haunt" a provider and when that provider doesn't believe that the public, or even the leadership of their agency, understands their needs, it can cause undue stress and a lack of coping; substance abuse and suicides can be a frightening consequence. When the provider is working multiple shifts, or even multiple jobs, and their hours are long, mistakes can happen on the job due to fatigue and distractions. While there are some protections in place such as driver training, police escort when available, and rig safety features, there are many safety concerns and chances of injury or worse from the moment the personnel steps onto the rig.

Many retention issues are not unique to New York State but are being experienced all over the country. Staffing shortages due to COVID are making the task more difficult. Ambulance response times are often longer due to higher call volume and less available crews. Better wages, more employee support within the company, and increased public knowledge of who and what the EMS provider is will help in the long run.

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