The EMT industry is facing an increasingly difficult labor shortage, NBC News reports.
The industry has long dealt with high turnover over burnout and low pay, and it's only worsened.
Now, the short staffing fallout from the pandemic could jack up 911 call response times.
Emergency medical technicians, or EMTs, are the latest group to contend with an increasingly worsening labor shortage - and civilians who need medical assistance could feel the impact, NBC News reports.
It's not a new problem, but it's a shortage that's only gotten worse throughout the pandemic, where EMTs have been out on the frontlines. American Ambulance Association President Shawn Baird told NBC News that the "magnitude" of shortages "has really blown up after the last few months," and said that there aren't enough workers to cover calls in many different areas.
"When you take a system that was already fragile and stretched it, because you didn't have enough people entering the field, then you throw a public health emergency and all of the additional burdens that it put on our workforce as well as the labor shortages across the entire economy, and it really has put us in a crisis mode," Baird told NBC News.
All across the economy, industries are struggling to hire and retain workers. Economists have told Insider that may be due to workers staying home over virus concerns, and that businesses may need to offer higher wages and better working conditions and benefits to lure them back. That's true for many of the workers who have been dispatched to serve on the frontlines of the pandemic.
Emergency personnel had already been facing down a shortage prior to the pandemic, Insider's Dave Mosher and Rhea Mahbubani reported in April 2020. At the time, New York City-based lieutenant EMT Vincent Variale said that EMTs faced heavy turnover, with some leaving the field over low pay and lack of funding for the program compared to their peers. When the pandemic hit, ambulance workers also became infected at high rates - exacerbating staffing issues and forcing remaining personnel to work longer shifts, with some putting in 16 hours a day for continuous days.
In 2018, the CDC released a set of tips for emergency responders to cope with burnout. One self-care technique included limiting shifts to be under 12 hours.
Fewer workers also means greater delays for ambulances and response times, something that can potentially have a big impact on patient outcomes.
Now, NBC News reports that the "pandemic has made a bad labor problem worse," as workers leave over the strain of working during the pandemic, and the remaining responders have to work longer (and then leave over it) - creating a continual cycle of turnover. Courses to train new workers were also put on pause by the pandemic.
One Michigan provider, Ken Cummings of Tri-Star Hospital EMS, told NBC News that the state has 1,000 open positions.
Some areas are turning to new initiatives to train EMTs and get them out into the field. The Bronx Times reported on "Earn While You Learn" program launching in New York City; according to the program's website, trainees will be paid a training wage throughout the program and all fees are paid for by Global Medical Response. The Bronx Times said that the program aims to graduate 80 paramedics. In 2019, the New York Post reported that shortages in the city were a "crisis."