The U.S Emergency Medical System Crisis

By: Brayden Moll

When someone breaks their leg, has a seizure, heart attack, or any other medical emergency, their first call is to 911 for help. Dispatchers then send ambulances with Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs) and Paramedics to the scene to aid the injured and ill. Unfortunately, those working in the prehospital EMS setting have suffered for years due to staffing shortages and low wages, which have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Helping people on the worst day of their lives is both rewarding and horrifying. Most would think that an EMT or Paramedic is making a good salary, considering the stress they are under to save lives each shift. Unfortunately, the opposite is true. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average EMT and Paramedic Salary in 2020 was only $17.62 per hour (bls.gov). EMTs can administer life-saving medications while also providing airway, breathing, and circulatory support, called Basic Life Support. Paramedics are considered Advanced Life Support providers, as they can perform surgical procedures, IVs, and endotracheal intubation, while also providing medications that make patients more comfortable. With all of the skills that EMTs and Paramedics can perform, $17.62 an hour seems inadequate to many. 

Kyleigh Moll is an EMT and paramedic student at Huron Valley Ambulance (HVA), the main private ambulance company in Southeast Michigan. Moll has been working as an EMT in Ann Arbor, MI for almost two years now and has saved countless lives over that time. Despite the problems with EMS, Moll still loves her job, and said, “I like [EMS] because every single shift is different.” After being in the field over the years, she added that she still loves the “adrenaline rush of being out in the field with only you and your partner and having very limited resources in a non-sterile environment and having to have a problem solve your way through a multitude of issues.”

Of course, it can be difficult to love a job when one works 12 to 24-hour shifts and gets paid less than employees at the local McDonalds. Moll is also a Co-President of the EMS club at the University of Michigan and is on the front lines trying to better EMS in the United States. Moll commented, “I don’t like that there is such a high rate of burnout in EMS and that the pay is low.” She also said that, “EMS is not recognized as an essential service by the Federal Government.” As a result, private EMS companies like HVA rarely receive any funding from the federal government, making it difficult for the companies to adequately pay their employees.

 

However, hope is not lost for EMS, and there are several solutions. According to the American Ambulance Association, “The Congress can provide specific direction and funds to the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) to help solve this workforce crisis” (https://ambulance.org/) This would assist companies and municipalities pay their employees a good wage, which would decrease the burnout rate and decrease the EMS staff shortages across the country. Without EMS, Moll said, “there would be no guarantee of a highly-trained provider showing up on scene of a medical emergency.” EMS providers across the country are hopeful that legislators will take action to help save the crippling system. 

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