AUSTIN, Texas - The American Ambulance Association says EMS systems across the country are facing a severe workforce shortage. The group is now asking Congress to provide funding to help fill these vacancies.
"We do have a shortage of medics right now, but that's from additions to our staff not because of attrition," said Jasper Brown, Interim Chief Of Austin-Travis County EMS.
There are currently 90 vacancies within the department and 34 of those are entry-level positions. Chief Brown says the pandemic is one of the reasons why they have not been able to fill those spots yet.
"During COVID, we had to slow down our hiring process, so we weren't able to fill those as quickly as we wanted to. We had to have smaller classes because there was no vaccine, social distances, and things like that," he said.
The shortage of medics becomes more evident when large events happen like ACL Music Festival.
"We actually could not staff three of our frontline ambulances during the ACL weekend because we are so short," said Selena Xie, President of the Austin EMS Association.
Chief Brown adds that other events like UT football happening at the same time as ACL also made it difficult to fully staff certain events.
Xie says the workload has become higher with the pandemic, and with fewer people to distribute that load onto, it has caused a strain on people working in this field. This has caused some to leave for a less stressful job that pays more.
"We even see in Austin, if you want to work for Tesla or Amazon as an EMT basic, they're paying $25 to $30 an hour so we are absolutely losing people to these different types of jobs where they don't have to necessarily work around people and respond to calls where you might have COVID and where you're running record numbers of calls," she said.
Compared to other EMS systems, Chief Brown says the wages are good and they have a great benefits package. This is attracting out-of-state applicants to fill the empty positions. The next class to bring in new cadets is in December, and they are hoping to fill a good number of entry-level positions to alleviate their current staff.