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WV’s EMS Staffing Crisis – A Closer Look

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Summary/Abstract

Kent Carper, president of the Kanawha County Commission and former paramedic, joined West Virginia Wide News and Politics to discuss the EMS risk in the Mountain State. Carper noted that while staffing in Kanawha County is decent and they can respond to calls, West Virginia lost 1100 EMS workers in one year and eleven EMS agencies have shuttered their doors. Carper believes that this staff shortage could be a health emergency and could threaten patient care in some communities and that they need to take action to ensure that West Virginians get the medical attention they need. The conversation was about the lack of funding for Emergency Medical Services (EMS) in the state. The legislature had an opportunity to help EMS but failed to pass House Bill 3153-3153, which was critical funding for training and recruitment for both fire and EMS. This has led to a crisis, with EMS unable to staff ambulances and too many hours of overtime being worked. The legislature also fumbled a $12 million spending bill that would have gone to support training and recruitment, which instead resulted in an additional insurance surcharge being put back on the taxpayers. The conversation concluded with the question of whether the legislature’s focus should be on finding a solution for recruiting and retention or on finding incentives to move forward with compensation reform. Overall, it is clear that the lack of funding and resources has been a major issue for EMS, and it is important for the legislature to take action in order to improve the situation. In this conversation, Mike spoke with West Virginia Commissioner Carper and the executive director of the Logan Emergency Ambulance Service Authority, Roger Bryant, about the staffing crisis in the state’s EMS system. Commissioner Carper noted that the solution to the crisis cannot simply be allowing untrained people to drive ambulance trucks without a CDL license, as it will result in injuries and deaths. He also suggested that hospitals should take a bigger role in West Virginia’s EMS system, as they could provide more stable employment opportunities. However, hospitals are not always profitable when it comes to emergency response calls. Roger noted that the Logan County EMS has openings and could hire five paramedics tomorrow, but has had to turn down some runs due to a lack of staff. Both Commissioner Carper and Roger discussed the importance of recruitment and retention programs in order to ensure the state has a steady, trained workforce in EMS. This conversation focuses on the issues that EMS in West Virginia is currently facing, such as recruitment, retention and reimbursement. It is noted that West Virginia was once one of the top EMS services in the United States, but has since become taken for granted. It is also noted that people often don’t think about EMS until they need it, and then they become the most important people on the scene. The conversation then shifts to House Bill 3153, which did not pass and had a funding mechanism between fire and EMS. It is noted that the 12 million proposed in the bill would not be enough to fix the problem and that a sustainable long-term funding mechanism of around 40-45 million would be needed to make EMS competitive with other allied healthcare fields. Finally, it is noted that EMS would be competing for the same funds as other groups such as senior citizens, state police, fire departments, and education.

Timestamps

0:00:00

Heading: West Virginia EMS Staffing Shortage: An Interview with Kent Carper, President of the Kanawha County Commission

0:01:48

Heading: Discussion on EMS Funding and Recruitment Challenges

0:03:49

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Heading: Discussion on West Virginia’s EMS System and Staffing Issues

0:09:33

Heading: Discussion on EMS Funding and Recruitment in West Virginia

0:15:27

Conversation on EMS Staffing Issues in West Virginia

0:17:42

Interview with Roger Bryant, Executive Director of LEASA

Highlights

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Those different tasks that happen on a daily basis on top of the 911 emergency call that everyone expects there to be an instantaneous response too. So certainly these staffing issues are really going to impact all of those things. And as you said, the hospitals certainly have a vested interest because they’re the endpoint for every one of those transports. So in West Virginia, the hospitals are regulated by a certificate of need. That’s been a hot topic and the legislature is heavily involved in that.

So that puts us competing against senior citizens groups, competing with state police, fire departments and education. Yeah, and education for the same dollar. Particularly at a time when you’ve got a legislature and administration that really don’t want to raise taxes on anybody and don’t want to impose fees and that kind of stuff. I think the place where the most logical place for that money to come from is out of healthcare dollars because that’s maybe the only field, or certainly one of the only fields that have shown any growth at all in West Virginia over the years.

Well, we didn’t get here overnight. If you go back and look, the same problems that are plaguing EMS in West Virginia today have been there for quite some time, and that’s recruitment, retention, and reimbursement. If you go back and look at the history of EMS in West Virginia, we were one of the ten best EMS services in the United States at one time. We were probably one of the first states that could provide advanced life support in every county in West Virginia at one time.

Yeah, both those guys started their career here with Lisa, and we’re really proud of both of them, as well as a lot of other people that started their career and went on to be physicians and nurses and other fields, which is part of the problem that we’re talking about today is because the standards have changed so much over the years and the reimbursement levels and the pay for EMS workers is not kept pace with those standards. So it just makes sense that if you’re going to take a two-year college course, you’re going to go into nursing or be a PA or go on if you’re capable, go on be a physician because you’re going to make a lot more money than being an EMT.

Well, we fixed it sort of in Kanawha County. We have a levy. The county commission gives extra money sometimes to help. We have a well-trained workforce, but we’re at a tipping point. The more and more we see people leaving EMS just like law enforcement, I mean, just like the Department of Corrections, just like the fire service. I think a couple of the municipal police departments had a training test for their police departments and only about three people showed up.

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  • Staff Writer

    From the WV Statewide News Team. Articles depicting “Staff Writer” indicate the content was prepared by several members of the news team.

From the WV Statewide News Team. Articles depicting "Staff Writer" indicate the content was prepared by several members of the news team.

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