Staffing shortage at EMS reaches critical level

Imagine being forced to work as many as 40 hours a week of overtime in a high stress environment.

It’s a reality for many paramedics and emergency medical technicians because of a staffing shortage.

Many are often told they they have to stay for a double shift, and that’s led to a number of problems like some calling in sick because they’re burnt out, and many others just quit.

It all came to a breaking point over the weekend.

For the first time ever, the city’s Emergency Medical Services Division had to pull four of its ambulances off the road because there weren’t enough workers.

“Looking at this past weekend, there was no indication that patient care was jeopardized.  Response times were good.  It was a slow weekend,” said Mark Rigg, Honolulu Emergency Services Department Director.

Thankfully it wasn’t a busy weekend because with medical emergencies, minutes and even seconds could mean the difference between life and death.

“The sick leave tends to be higher on the weekends, particularly at stations where the people think they might get stuck at work,” said Rigg. “They have to stay because the last option is to close down units.  The shortage got so bad this weekend that we had to do that.”

Could that happen again?  Possibly.

EMS currently has about 200 EMTs and paramedics.  15 new EMTs are going through orientation and should be out on the road by the middle of next month.  They’re also expecting to hire five more paramedics next month.

“And after that I believe we still have about 30 vacancies left,” Rigg said.

Starting pay for EMTs is $43,224, while paramedics start at $54,900.  Paramedics have more advanced training than EMTs.

They do get compensated whenever they work extra hours, but sometimes it’s not all about the money.

With staff getting burnt out, KHON2 asked if EMS is concerned that more people will quit.

“That’s always a concern of ours.  We’re working on a shift schedule change,” explained Rigg.

He thinks that’ll help stop the bleeding of employees.  But any changes would still have to be approved by the union UPW.

“We’re doing everything we can to fix the problem,” Rigg said.  “I think the biggest thing we’re trying to do right now is have enough personnel in the division so they can go home at the end of their shift to their families.”

Rigg says another thing that’ll help is that Kapiolani Community College is now holding three EMT classes a year instead of two, so there will be more graduates to possibly hire.

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