EMS shortage parks ambulances, HealthNet
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) - A widespread shortage of paramedics and emergency medical technicians is felt on the ground and in the air.
That’s right. Even HealthNet has struggled to keep its choppers fully staffed.
“There are times when aircraft that previously would have been staffed are not staffed -- just like in every ground ambulance operation that I’m aware of,” said Clinton Burley, president and CEO of HealthNet Aeromedical Services. “There are days that ambulance stations are shuttered because of a lack of staff.”
The West Virginia EMS Coalition reports the state has lost more than 1,600 certified paramedics and EMTs since 2019. Further analysis by the coalition projects only a fraction of those certified are actively providing EMS care in the state.
The problem is widespread, according to multiple officials, including those interviewed in Lincoln, Wayne and Cabell counties.
Lincoln County, down 12 workers, relies upon overtime to keep three ambulances running.
Wayne County may need a crew from the north to answer a call in the south, slowing response time.
In Cabell County, officials have lowered qualifications, in some instances, for those who drive a patient home from the hospital.
Officials taking those actions -- combined with a $10-million initiative, Answer The Call, launched this summer by Gov. Jim Justice. That program used COVID-relief money to bolster and equip the state’s EMS workforce.
“Is that enough to fix this problem?” WSAZ NewsChannel 3 Investigative/Political Reporter Curtis Johnson asked.
“This is a start to address a long-term problem that is going to require long-term solutions,” Burley replied.
Answer The Call is a cooperative effort. The state’s community and technical colleges teach, while HealthNet manages and operates the simulators.
Nearly six months in, Burley believes it may be just the incentive needed to stabilize EMS services in West Virginia.
“We have more people in EMT classes now and in the past few months than we have had in West Virginia in years,” he said. “I think that’s promising. These folks have to complete their training, they have to pass their national examinations and then they can go to work.”
Burley says getting to that point takes education, experience and confidence.
But that’s not HealthNet’s only problem. Burley said it also struggles to keep enough pilots due to attractive sign-on bonuses offered by the airlines to fill spots in that industry.
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