Nearly every industry has dealt with staffing shortages since the start of the pandemic, but few occupations can mean the difference between life and death like that of an EMT. But for many, low wages are forcing EMTs out of their jobs.
Deniece Farnsworth told CBS News that after seven years she's not sure how much longer she can afford to keep doing her job as an EMT. Her current pay is $18 an hour.
"To pay the bills, we have to work as much as we can," she said.
Farnsworth actually makes slightly more than the national median average for EMTs which is $17.05 per hour. That translates into $35,470 per year. The Bureau of Labor Statistics lists it as one of the lowest-paying jobs in health care. Low pay was the primary reason roughly one-third of all EMTs quit in 2021.
The industry is having a hard time replacing them.
A 2022 American Ambulance Association study of employee turnover found that 39% of part-time EMT and 55% of part-time paramedic positions went unfilled because of a lack of qualified candidates.
"It's an absolute crisis. We have continual paramedics hitting the exit doors and leaving the field," said American Ambulance Association president Shawn Baird.
He added that Medicaid's reimbursement for non-emergency transports, like moving a patient between hospitals or taking someone to dialysis, keeps wages low.
"It can mean the difference of having an ambulance or not having an ambulance," Baird said.
AMR, the nation's largest private ambulance provider, announced it's ending non-emergency transport in Los Angeles County. The company cites low Medicaid reimbursement as a major reason for a $3.5 million budget deficit in that market alone.
Amwest Ambulance Director of Operations Brian Napoli said that to keep from losing EMTs like Farnsworth, the company is moving to give employees a raise. But they can't afford it long-term, he told CBS News, that if Medicaid reimbursements don't increase, Amwest may also have to stop non-emergency services.
Napoli said it costs the company more than $250 for an average non-emergency transport call. However, their Medicaid reimbursement is just $107.
California recently passed a law that could require a $22-an-hour minimum wage for fast food workers. However, there is no mandated pay for EMTs.
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