PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – As American Medical Response expands into serving Washington County, there’s still no sign of improvement for the paramedic staffing crisis still impacting the region.
There is an ongoing national strain on the emergency medical system. Short staffing stems from a lack of paramedic schooling during the COVID-19 pandemic, extreme burnout, increased mental health and addiction needs and the misuse of 911 ambulances.
As of Thursday, July 13, AMR reports being short-staffed for paramedics and EMTs in the counties they serve: Clark, Multnomah and Clackamas.
It’s why AMR currently can’t get to calls fast enough.
“Despite extraordinary efforts to recruit and incentivize paramedics to work at our Multnomah operation, our response times have declined disproportionately to our neighboring counties in the last six months,” AMR officials said in a press release.
Meanwhile, Clark County has seen some improvement, but the company says they need to continue their hiring effort. They also plan to expand into Washington County on Aug. 1.
“We are aware of AMR’s contingency plans that include bringing in state-licensed paramedics from their operations outside of the metro counties, as well as working with fire agencies in Washington County to have more ambulances available for transportation,” said Wendy Gordon, at Washington County Health and Human Services.
According to AMR, they’ve already hired more than 82% of the 50 paramedics and 100% of the EMTs they need for Washington County. They plan to be 100% staffed in time for their start date.
Randy Lauer, AMR’s vice president of operations, told KOIN 6 that staffing is their biggest challenge.
“Right now, I think we’re kind of in a holding pattern,” he said. ”We’re actively hiring, recruiting – we’re doing everything we can think of to onboard more people. There’s just not enough out there.”
Lauer also said AMR is losing the same amount of employees that they’re hiring –- 95% of which are going to the fire service for better retirement benefits. AMR is implementing pay increases, hiring and referral bonuses, and paramedic scholarships to target the issue.
Unlike the neighboring counties, Multnomah County’s contract requires there to be 2 paramedics in an ambulance. AMR continues to push for Multnomah County to temporarily switch to a one-paramedic and one-EMT ambulance system.
“This is the solution,” Lauer said. He argues the temporary change would help mitigate the impacts of these shortages and improve service to the public while maintaining the same level of clinical care for the community.
Multnomah County doesn’t see it that way.
There is not a strong appetite among Multnomah County leadership to deviate from the dual paramedic system. Their EMS staff have weighed the pros and cons. They believe the risks outweigh the rewards.
According to the Multnomah County Health Department, “At this point in time, County leadership is looking at all potential options to address national and local issues that Emergency Medical Systems are facing across the country. We fully support the two pilots we are currently running, including a direct dispatch of the BLS (Basic Life Support) ambulances (all EMTs) response, and are working to fully staff the pilots to help us gather the data we need to make longer-term decisions.”