MUSKEGON, Mich. (WOOD) — The budget approved by the Michigan Legislature this week includes $12.9 million for emergency medical services, which are struggling with worker shortage.

Leaders in the ambulance industry say the boost in funding could be just what they need to attract people back to the field. There are about 1,000 full-time paramedic and EMT openings around the state.

In Muskegon County, main ambulance provider Mercy Health Pro Med alone has six openings. The director says that means fewer ambulances are on the road. Typically, Pro Med has 10 ambulances on duty during the day and five at night.

“We’ve had a number of days where we are below that number,” Director Tom Schmiedeknecht said. “Not uncommon to be running at 75% of where we’d like to be with ambulances.”

Schmiedeknecht said emergency patients are still getting ambulances when they call because the system prioritizes the most serious calls. It’s the less urgent calls that can fall by the wayside.

“A lot of patients move from hospital to hospital; those may have to wait. Again, if it’s not a life-threatening need to move them, they may sit for hours waiting for an ambulance transfer,” he said. “That’s just what we have to do right now to make sure the critical patients are taken care of.”

Toby Gabriel and his mother called for an ambulance earlier this week after he injured himself during a violent seizure. They asked to be taken to a Spectrum Health hospital in either Grand Rapids or Grand Haven, saying that’s where their preferred epilepsy care is, but said Pro Med couldn’t oblige.

“There was only three paramedics here in Muskegon and due to that fact and the COVID, they said that they weren’t able to,” Gabriel said.

Pro Med said generally, ambulances will not take patients outside its community unless there is a verified medical reason to do so, but Gabriel said Pro Med has done it for him several times in years past.

“I really don’t know when my seizures come on, it’s just like in a snap of a finger and I’m into one,” Gabriel said. “So to not have that transportation like I used to, it makes me feel like Muskegon is going down a little bit.”

Pro Med and the Michigan Association of Ambulance Services hope the additional state funding will give them the ability to train and attract more people to the industry, seeing it as a possible solution to the ongoing staffing shortage.