AMU Emergency Management Fire & EMS Original Public Safety

EMS Worker Shortages, COVID-19 and Community Resilience

By Allison G. S. Knox
Edge Contributor

When a disaster happens, there is often an administrative breakdown somewhere along the road. As a result, the community problems that the disaster creates can become much, much worse due to administrative issues. 

One example is Hurricane Katrina. When Hurricane Katrina happened in August 2005, it was not handled well. There was terrible miscommunication between different levels of government agencies, and the confusion exacerbated an already dire situation in New Orleans.

As COVID-19 continues to rage on, it has also worsened the numerous workplace shortages in Emergency Medical Services (EMS). Unfortunately, the problem of insufficient EMS workers is increasing as the pandemic continues.

Nationwide EMS Recruitment and Retention Problems

EMS has had numerous problems with recruitment and retention for decades, and it appears that most communities are not immune to this problem. It has been difficult to get people interested in working on ambulance crews because of the low pay, the strange hours (such as sometimes working in the middle of the night), and the need for EMS workers to have multiple jobs to make ends meet. But those who work in EMS despite these conditions often love their jobs as they’re happy to serve the public. 

Recruitment and retention of EMS workers has been a particular problem in rural communities. Resolving this problem is vital because many rural communities lack ambulances as well as the people to staff them. For a patient needing immediate medical care, a trip to a nearby hospital can take up to an hour, which can put the patient’s life at risk.

Lawmakers Need to Understand the Critical Nature of Resolving EMS Recruitment and Retention

It is imperative that lawmakers understand the critical nature of resolving the recruitment and retention issues with 911 emergency services. An EMS system that doesn’t have a problem with recruitment or retention would certainly go a long way in ensuring community resilience during and after a disaster.

Ideally, lawmakers need to help ambulance agencies determine how to correct this imbalance before the next big disaster hits. For instance, local elected officials could work with their ambulance agencies and other members of the community to drive EMS recruitment programs for 911 services. But workable solutions need to be developed very soon to protect the public and the communities they live in.

Allison G. S. Knox teaches in the fire science and emergency management departments at American Military University and American Public University. Focusing on emergency management and emergency medical services policy, she often writes and advocates about these issues. Allison serves as the At-Large Director of the National Association of Emergency Medical Technicians and as Chancellor of the Southeast Region on the Board of Trustees with Pi Gamma Mu International Honor Society in Social Sciences. She is also chair of Pi Gamma Mu’s Leadership Development Program. 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 multiple graduate degrees.

Comments are closed.