Michigan ambulance services work to improve recruitment

HOWELL, Mich. (AP) -- Ambulance services in Michigan are working to improve recruitment efforts and generate interest in the emergency medical services industry, which is facing a staff shortage largely due to high employee turnover and low pay rates.

Counties, universities and private companies are working together to reach out to high school and college students about the industry and offer training programs to get people interested, the Livingston Daily Press & Argus reported .

The number of students graduating from paramedic training in the state has dropped from 1,200 per year to 250 in the past three years, according to the Michigan Bureau of EMS, Trauma and Preparedness. 

Emergent Health Partners, an Ann Arbor-based nonprofit ambulance and health transportation services provider, is visiting high schools to talk about the career, finding ways to help students pay for college while they're training and working with universities on their pre-med program, said Matthew Rose, a company spokesman.  

Emergent Health Partners also provides paramedic and EMT education programs, as well as a tuition reimbursement program, he said. 

"We've implemented a lot of new things and ideas in the last few years to try and bring people into EMS," Rose said. 

The industry's high employee turnover is one of the main factors behind the staffing shortage, Rose said. EMTs often stay in the field for about five years before moving on to be nurses or doctors, he said.

The job's demanding work is likely contributing to the turnover, said Denise Martin, EMS program director and full-time teacher of EMTs and paramedics at Oakland Community College. 

"We deal with a lot of situations that are not safe," Martin said. "That could be part of it. We're exposed to violence. There's a lot of different aspects of it. There are a lot of people, because it's physically taxing, they'll only do it for a number of years and they'll retire and do something else."

The industry is also struggling to attract employees because of the low beginning pay rate. In 2017, EMTs in Michigan made about $15.56 an hour, which is about $32,300 a year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. 

Livingston County's Board of Commissioners last month approved an increase to the county's pay schedule for EMS employees, said Jeff Boyd, the county's EMS director. The starting pay for a new paramedic is now $17.87 an hour, up from $13.65 an hour.