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How EMS Response Times Improve Performance

For ambulance agencies, one of the most important factors to consider is EMS response times. Response times tell us a lot about an EMS provider’s functionality when it comes getting their employees out the door and arriving on scene to handle a 911 emergency. 

Setting Fines for EMS Response Times

On November 18, 2022, KBPS Public Media reported that Faulk, an ambulance provider to the city of San Diego, California, will likely see government fines due to its “failure to meet response times and staffing goals.” From a management perspective, poor response times and inadequate staff are problems that need to be promptly addressed, and fines often help to correct these issues. 

Fines send a strong message from the community to an EMS provider, indicating that being late to 911 emergencies is not acceptable. Also, it shows that an EMS agency has not met its duty to act or is negligent in its ability to respond to 911 emergencies appropriately. 

However, the response times and staffing issues that EMS agencies face in San Diego is not news to the industry. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, ensuring that there is enough staff in ambulance crews has been a nationwide problem for decades, especially in the wake of COVID-19.

[Related article: Culture Problems: Fixing the EMS Agencies]

Why Are EMS Providers Falling Behind in Their Response Times?

According to a 2017 Journal of American Medicine Association article, normal response times for EMS agencies on a 911 call range from seven to 10 minutes. So why are EMS agencies are falling behind on their response times? There are different factors, including:

  • A lack of enough staff for ambulances
  • Traffic jams
  • An increased number of 911 calls, especially after the COVID-19 pandemic
  • Organizational culture

What Is Being Done to Attract Personnel to EMS Agencies?

Throughout the country, EMS agencies, including volunteer organizations, are working hard to recruit new people. Similarly, EMS educational institutions are striving to fill their classes and give people the training they need.

However, it is first necessary to solve the problems that are causing people to leave the first responder field. According to the 2022 EMS Trend Report published by Pulsara, EMS personnel leave for various reasons:

  • Wages and benefits
  • Poor leadership
  • Schedule/hours
  • Mental health concerns
  • Safety concerns

But these problems are symptoms of a poor organizational culture. An industry that supports poor wages, poor leadership and no treatment for mental health issues creates an internal culture that makes these problems acceptable.

Fines Are Not an Automatic Fix for Employee Deficits

On the surface, it seems that fines would motivate EMS agencies to correct their ongoing issues. But for EMS agencies already struggling to recruit and retain more people, such fines could make the situation even worse by having a crippling effect on strained EMS budgets. That crippling effect might not be felt immediately, but it could create significant hardships for an EMS agency – and the community it serves – down the road.

We Need More Collaborative Conversations between EMS Agencies and Community Leaders

Instead of imposing fines for EMS agencies, community leaders and EMS agency leaders need to have comprehensive conversations about the problems their local EMS agencies have and determine a different course of action. The staffing and equipment problems of EMS agencies affect their ability to provide reliable, even life-saving service to communities, so these community discussions should happen sooner rather than later.

Questions that should be asked during such conversations include:

  • What are the problems? Is it about staffing shortages, resource management or other issues?
  • Are there cultural issues within EMS agencies contributing to these deficits? 
  • What else can be done to ensure response times improve?

Improving response times by EMS crews isn’t an isolated issue to be solved by EMS agencies alone. It needs to be treated as a comprehensive community problem, and more government leaders need to get involved in helping to ensure that EMS crews are able to provide reliable service.

Allison G.S. Knox

Allison G. S. Knox teaches in the fire science and emergency management departments at the University. Focusing on emergency management and emergency medical services policy, she often writes and advocates about these issues. Allison works as an Intermittent Emergency Management Specialist in the Administration for Strategic Preparedness and Response. She also serves as the At-Large Director of the National Association of Emergency Medical Technicians, Chancellor of the Southeast Region on the Board of Trustees with Pi Gamma Mu International Honor Society in Social Sciences, chair of Pi Gamma Mu’s Leadership Development Program and Assistant Editor for the International Journal of Paramedicine. Prior to teaching, Allison worked for a member of Congress in Washington, D.C. and in a Level One trauma center emergency department. She is an emergency medical technician and holds five master’s degrees.

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