UP agencies worry worsening EMT shortage could slow response times


MARQUETTE, Mich. (WJMN) — Michigan is experiencing a statewide shortage of emergency medical technicians and paramedics.

According to the Michigan Association of Ambulance Services, the staffing shortage is worsening daily, making it difficult for EMS agencies to cover shifts. This may also lead to slowed-down ambulance response times in some areas of the state.

Gary Wadaga is the director of Bay Ambulance in Baraga, which covers almost the entirety of Baraga County and portions of southern Houghton County and serves about 9,000 people.

Bay Ambulance recently lost a third of its workforce, leading Wadaga to step in himself to fill the gap in his crew.

“This whole shortage is leading to the shut down of ambulance services, and we’re not at risk for that. Two or three years ago, Covington Ambulance Service closed,” Wadaga said. “So now we have to respond all the way down to the Baraga/Iron County line. Time, minutes, can make a difference in a lot of these cases, whether it’s a stroke, a heart attack or cardiac arrest. If we start losing additional services, we’re going to be in worse trouble than what we are in right, and that’s the fear.”

Wadaga expresses his love for his job and encourages those interested in the field to participate in your local EMT and paramedic programs.

The paramedic and EMT shortage began a few years ago, but the COVID-19 pandemic has made the shortage more of a crisis than ever. There are currently over 1,000 openings for full-time paramedics and EMTs across the state, with an estimated 50 open paramedic positions in the Upper Peninsula. This includes openings at UP Health System – Marquette.

“The job is physically, mentally brutal, challenging. Takes a certain kind of person, you truly want to do this. This is something you want to do, not a career choice out of necessity. A lot of our people are exhausted,” said Alyson Sundberg, director of UP Health System EMS/Rampart EMS. “They’re working at multiple agencies. They’ll work a 24-hour shift at agency X. They’ll go home, sleep 6 to 10 hours. They’ll go work another 12 hours at another EMS agency and it’s because we have this core group of people who are trained and licensed to do this. That group is so small, but the schedules all over the U.P. are, the staffing shortages are everywhere.”

MAAS and the Michigan Association of Fire Chiefs have called on state leaders to increase funding to bolster EMS payments and increase EMS employee salaries. Michigan EMS has also requested a training grant to get new paramedics trained and into the field quickly.

Sundberg explains the roles of EMTs and paramedics, and also how the shortage came about.

UPHS – Marquette has a school of Emergency Medical Technology and will be offering an EMT class in October. The class is available UP-wide via remote learning and on-campus learning. As far as paramedic courses, Bay College in Escanaba offers paramedic courses, which is about a two-year program. Sundberg says they are working on making paramedic courses more accessible. She also states that previous experience is not necessary. To be eligible for a paramedic course you must be an EMT.

For more information on UPHS’s School of EMT, click here.

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