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Your View: Emergency medical services workers deserve a thriving wage

An Allentown EMS ambulance is seen several years ago at the former Morning 첥Ƶ building in the city. (Frank Warner/첥Ƶ)
An Allentown EMS ambulance is seen several years ago at the former Morning 첥Ƶ building in the city. (Frank Warner/첥Ƶ)
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Have you ever needed to pick up the phone and dial 911? Let me share my story.

In 2022, my aunt texted me to check-in on her since she had the flu. I decided to call her back via video messaging. As the video call commenced, I knew I needed an ambulance ASAP. My aunt was in respiratory distress. Time was of the essence as I saw her eyes rolling to the back of her head as she struggled to breathe.

I dialed 911, which led me to the county’s dispatcher. Within 10 minutes, a local emergency medical services crew was at her front door. Right then and there, they were able to give her medications and breathing treatments, and place her on a CPAP machine for respiratory support as they transported her to the local emergency department. Imagine, this not being an option for you or your loved ones.

Fritzie Schimmel of Forks Township is an emergency department nurse and a Doctor of Nursing Practice student at Duke University School of Nursing. (Contributed photo)
Fritzie Schimmel

During the last three decades, our region has gone from 27 to 10 ambulance squads.

EMS is an underfunded part of our health care system. One that is a pivotal access point to receiving emergent medical care. These agencies are struggling to stay afloat and retain their employees due to decreased funding, high costs of services rendered and inadequate insurance reimbursements.

The COVID-19 pandemic increased the workload for the profession, creating a demand no one imagined, while simultaneously bringing to light the inadequate conditions EMS staff work in. Emergency medical technicians and paramedics feel unheard and undervalued by governing agencies, administrators, health care organizations and the community members they serve. Many are leaving the profession due to poor compensation, high-stress work environments, burnout and a poor work-life balance.

All of these elements combined impact their mental health, putting them at a higher risk for disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety, substance abuse and suicide.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics, the annual wage for an EMT in Pennsylvania is approximately $33,450 and $53,560 for a paramedic. That is an average of $16 to $25 an hour between the two professions.

Did you know that many of them rely on overtime to make ends meet? They are first responders who go through extensive training to provide medical services to the residents in our community. Examples of this include assessing a patient’s condition and determining the best course of treatment, providing first aid or life support to patients who are sick or injured, and administering lifesaving medications and interventions such as CPR.

Paramedics and EMTs learn to be prepared for anything: traumatic injuries, intervening in a mental health crisis, managing opioid-related overdoses and much more. Add on the need to wear protective gear, such as bullet proof vests, due to increased risk of injury or physical assault while on the job. Due to these factors recruitment into this profession is at an ultimate low.

In times of crisis these are the individuals who you want to call upon. Imagine them not being there because they are leaving this field of work for higher paying jobs, with better benefits, safer work environments and decreased stress. Any one of these EMS employees can go to a local warehouse and get paid at least $20 to $25 per hour. No need to risk their own lives or have the lives of others in their hands. Who wouldn’t want this?

The reality is that EMTs and paramedics are core part of our community health care systems. They are exposed to some of the most traumatic events that you can imagine. We need them as much as they need adequate compensation for the skills and services they provide. EMTs and paramedics deserve to be paid a thriving wage: one that provides enough to pay for their necessities, to have disposable income, and to save for the future.

What I implore you to do:

1. Contact your local legislators to demand a thriving wage and benefits for EMTs and paramedics.

2. Contact insurance companies for equitable reimbursement rates for pre-hospital services, and to move away from fixed rates.

3. Learn how your local ambulance company is funded and explore a sustainable funding model for this service.

4. Support your local ambulance service companies by making donations or volunteering with them.

5. Consider becoming an EMT or a paramedic.

Please don’t take this service and their employees for granted. Picture dialing 911 and having to wait for an ambulance or no one answering the call. They risk their lives on a daily basis to protect ours. EMTs and paramedics need our support, they are men and women like you and me.

A thriving wage for EMS personnel is a local, state, and national issue. Take the steps above to improve recruitment and retention of EMTs and paramedics in our area.

Fritzie Schimmel of Forks Township is an emergency department nurse and a doctor of nursing practice student at Duke University School of Nursing.

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