Michigan EMS say underfunding, paramedic shortage has pushed industry to the brink

LANSING – A paramedic from Southwestern Michigan Community Ambulance Service joined other emergency medical service providers in Lansing on Thursday to address the State House and Senate.

Michigan EMS leaders delivered a serious message to leaders in Lansing Thursday: EMS is on life support and needs investment to survive.

More than 20 years without new investment in EMS and additional pandemic-related costs have forced ambulance providers to sound the alarm and ask for help to ensure they can keep serving their communities.

“We have been triaging this problem for a long time, but the pandemic exposed the flaws in our system and pushed us to the brink,” said Jeff White, chief at Richmond/Lenox EMS. “It’s no longer possible for us to deal with this crisis on our own and we are asking for support from the state.”

EMS providers from Huron Valley Ambulance, Tri-Hospital EMS, Richmond/Lenox EMS, and Southwest Michigan Community Ambulance Services testified Thursday before the House and Senate Health Policy Committees, explaining the difficult situation the industry and its staff are facing.

“Over the past few years, our industry has been experiencing a significant decline in the availability of EMTs and paramedics and it’s become so bad that some ambulance services have been forced to reduce coverage to their communities,” said Ken Cummings, president and CEO of Tri-Hospital EMS in St. Clair County.

Denise Pope, a paramedic from SMCAS, testified about how the lack of available staff has impacted paramedics like herself: “There simply aren’t enough of us to work 40 hours and serve our communities. In a typical week, I have to work [36 consecutive] hours just to ensure shifts are covered. Working this many hours isn’t sustainable for anyone and we need help getting more staff into our industry so we can protect our communities.”

Pope also reportedly said she has had to work 72 to 100 plus hours in one week.

While there is not a simple fix all of the issues EMS is facing, the Michigan Association of Ambulance Services and the Michigan Association of Fire Chiefs is hoping the severe underfunding the industry has faced for decades can be the place to start.

MAAS and MAFC are urging state leaders to include a $10 million increase in state funding for EMS services to bolster Medicaid reimbursement rates. Currently EMS services are only reimbursed for 10 to 25 percent of their costs.

“Michigan EMS providers haven’t seen a rate increase since 2000 and have actually been reduced twice since then,” said Ron Slagell, president and CEO of Emergent Health Partners. “We are only receiving reimbursement for 10 to 25 percent of our costs and that is no longer sustainable. Michigan EMS needs support from the state so that we can continue to support its residents.”

Michigan EMS services also are seeking a $5 million one-time tuition grant to get more paramedics and EMTs into the pipeline quickly so that ambulance providers can continue to serve their communities. More information about these legislative asks is available at www.miambulance.org/legislativeagenda.

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