EMT shortage hits Harlan County

By Darla Jackson
Contributing Writer

A meeting of elected officials, emergency management, and AMR ambulance service directors was held Monday to address the problems that all ambulance services around the country are currently faced with. The lack of workforce and staff is affecting emergency response teams, including Harlan County.

Harlan County Judge-Executive Dan Mosley, District 3 Magistrate Paul Browning, Harlan County Emergency Director David McGill, Global Medical Response Regional Director Elizabeth Janie Ward, Operations Manager for Leslie County and Interim for Harlan County Tim Bell, and Regional Account Executive Reed Scearse met to discuss the issues of lack of staff and how to increase ambulance service efficiency.

The lack of staff was exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic in a multitude of ways that included a gap in workforce-ready individuals due to training classes coming to a halt, first responders dying of COVID-19, and the fear associated with first responders regarding the pandemic. Dan Mosley also added that the additional unemployment funding brought about by the pandemic added to the lack of workforce availability. The meeting covered all aspects of the ambulance service including response time for ambulances, ambulance availability, and the dire shortage of staff including EMTs and paramedics.

Ward said that AMR had an abundance of vehicles and medical equipment and that recently, $250,000 of medical equipment upgrades had been added to the inventory. A plan was discussed that includes a minimum of five fully staffed ambulances in the county both day and night, seven days a week, and that the only obstacle to the implementation of this plan is the current lack of a trained and certified workforce. It takes six certified employees to operate one functioning ambulance seven days a week.

During the pandemic, mandates and restrictions were lightened and allowed uncertified drivers to go on non-emergency ambulance runs. The mandate that all drivers must be EMT certified goes back into effect Sept. 30, and at that point, Harlan County will lose five drivers. Fortunately, all five drivers are currently undergoing the necessary training to return to the ambulance service within days of this deadline. By Nov. 9 the ambulance service hopes to add more staff members to the Harlan County service. There is also a push to permanently remove the mandate for certified drivers as other states have done, therefore making employment much quicker and easier with a path to become certified within a year.

AMR is hoping to work with high schools and colleges in order to recruit future paramedics and have more accessible training areas inside the county. As an incentive, the ambulance service has increased the salaries of their staff hoping this will draw more of an interest to this field.

The shortage of emergency medical technicians and paramedics is not exclusive to the Harlan County area, as this is a nationwide problem.

If you are currently certified as an EMT or paramedic, or are interested in becoming certified and seeking employment with the ambulance service, you can contact ElizabethWard@gmr.net or 931-319-7398.