Austin, Travis EMS fighting to end staff shortage

Austin/Travis County EMS is battling a staffing shortage in their department.

Officials said they have a cadet class that will help fill vacancies, but the ATCEMS Employee Association said it's a deeper problem.

It has been a record setting year for Austin/Travis County EMS in a couple of ways. ATCEMS management said they have a record sized cadet class underway right now, but the Employee Association president said there is also a record amount of resignations for this time of year. 

ATCEMS has had 29 personnel leave the department so far this year. The majority of them were medic 1s who have only had six months' worth of training.
"You may not even know that this is what you want to do for a living or that you can do it. I mean, this is your first job doing it in a very high-volume, fast-paced system," said Austin Travis County EMS Commander Mike Benavides.  
ATCEMS management said they are already working to fix the problem. 
"We've had vacancies in our schedule, up to about 40 vacancies, and in our current process we have an academy that's underway. We are approximately 3-4 weeks into our academy and that will fill all of our entry level vacancies that we have in the department," Benavides said.   
ATCEMS Employee Association President Tony Marquardt said holding a bigger cadet class isn't going to solve everything.  
"I'd say it's a start, but it doesn't address the retention issue that is I think the core issue," said Marquardt. 
Marquardt said employees are leaving the department at a record setting pace because they are overworked. 
ATCEMS said their staff works one overtime shift per month. Then sometimes work additional overtime if they are on the accumulative list, which covers the shifts of those who call in sick. 
"When they can't meet their overtime staffing obligations and were using accumulative overtime, or emergency staffing, which is happening with a great deal of frequency, then I'd say we definitely have a problem," said Marquardt.  
ATCEMS management said those on the accumulative list can ask for someone else to cover for them or tell their supervisor if they are unable to work that day. 
"We have a vast number of guys coming in voluntarily to work and not necessarily because of some need for the system, so to speak, but for some of them it's a good opportunity to supplement their income and work some overtime," said Benavides.  
"The reality is we are up for on-call on a regular basis that's planned. We realize that it's necessary because we need to make sure that Austin is taken care of, but there is growing occasions of what they call accumulative overtime, which is actually based off emergency staffing, which is a city charter where you're mandated to come in without notice," said Marquardt.  
Another issue is attracting paramedics to the Austin department. Marquardt said paramedics with two years of training don't want to work their way up as medics in Austin when they can start as paramedics in surrounding counties. 
ATCEMS management said that changed when they became a civil service department in 2012 and now, like other civil service agencies, you start at the bottom and work your way up no matter your previous qualifications.
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