"As we entered the pandemic, individuals left the profession both because of burnout, working conditions, and also because they were being recruited to leave the profession, and we weren’t able to train people to be paramedics," said Robert Luckritz, ATCEMS chief. "So you put all those things together, and that's how we ended up where we are today."
But Luckritz is hopeful about a new labor contract between ATCEMS and the City of Austin that goes into effect Oct. 1. Along with a pay raise, they will be able to hire paramedics directly from outside the department.
Though they are short-staffed when it comes to EMTs and dispatch, the greatest need currently is for clinical specialists, also known as paramedics. "We currently have 78 openings," said Luckritz.
Pre-contract, hiring was limited to the entry-level rank of EMT with eligibility for promotion only after two years.
Luckritz is optimistic about where they’ll be staffing-wise by the beginning of the new year. They plan to have the first direct paramedic academy underway in January or February. That will coincide with an upcoming EMT academy.
"The academy that just graduated, graduated 14, and the incoming academy class will be 28," said Luckritz. "And we have over 100 candidates that are moving forward to interviews in preparation for our January academy."
But they do have to get through a busy season first. "ACL, F1, the UT games - all of these special events are coming up," said Luckritz. "We realize we have to think a little bit differently and creatively about how we can staff those events."
Luckritz said they may consider bringing in outside resources for large events, as they serve the public while also ensuring their staff maintains a "work-life balance." "I think that's going to be what wins the staffing game," said Luckritz.
Acadian Ambulance Service - a private company that serves Austin and surrounding areas - is in a similar boat.
"We’ve certainly offered a lot of overtime for our individuals, and we’re creative in how we staff different shifts and the hours that we staff and so forth," said Ron Quaranto, regional vice president.
Along with the standard three-month EMT training course, Acadian - which responds to emergency and non-emergency calls - recently started offering an accelerated, earn-while-you-learn, seven-week EMT course. They also offer paramedic training.
"Whether you're a van driver just moving patients in a wheelchair to appointments, or you get your EMT or paramedic certification you can really make a great career out of it," said Quaranto.
To learn more about Acadian’s programs, click here.