Stanislaus County, like much of the nation, is experiencing a shortage of emergency medical technicians and paramedics to staff ambulances.
The issue was brought to light during a Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors meeting on Tuesday when Supervisor Buck Condit commented that he has been hearing from county residents of some delayed response times.
Modesto's American Medical Response Regional Director Cindy Woolston, who happened to be at the meeting, said ambulance companies across the country are dealing with staff shortages brought about because of COVID-19. The shortage was primarily caused by dramatic drops in academies training paramedics during the height of the pandemic. Woolsten said there had been a decrease in at least 50 percent in the number of academies, meaning there are far fewer individuals trained for the open positions.
"Our pipelines kind of dried up," Woolsten said.
Woolsten said AMR currently has vacancies in this area for nine paramedics and 14 EMTs. she expects the EMT positions to be filled by the end of June, but the paramedic positions will take longer to fill.
An EMT is trained in providing basic medical care while a paramedic can provide advanced life support and other medical care to patients, which means the training they undergo is more extensive and longer. Woolsten said AMR awarded eight scholarships to employees for them to continue their training and become paramedics.
Stanislaus County Fire Warden and Assistant Director of the Office of Emergency Services Richard Murdock said the staffing shortages has meant local healthcare districts have to respond under mutual aid agreements. The more frequent responses, the more strain it puts on the health districts, especially when it requires a response outside of their district.
Typically, and ambulance crew is made up of one EMT and one paramedic. Murdock said that the latest data showed 68 percent of the emergency medical calls in Stanislaus County don't require a paramedic to be on site. He pointed to other communities using a configuration of two EMTs on one ambulance and two paramedics on another. They are dispatched together and if a paramedic is needed, one goes with the EMT team and the other remains in service. Murdock said changing the configuration to be the most efficient is an option the county should consider.
"That is one fix we can do right now," Murdock said.