Minnesota EMS providers sound warning over ambulance staffing

A state organization says more is being asked of our EMTs and paramedics and pressure on the job has increased, while compensation has not.
Published: Jan. 19, 2023 at 4:14 PM CST
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ST. PAUL (Valley News Live/KARE11) - Minnesota’s emergency medical service providers gathered at the State Capitol Thursday to sound a warning, saying increasing pressure on EMTs and paramedics is driving people out of the field, while demands for services keep increasing.

Industry officials and advocates held a press conference after meeting with lawmakers to urge action that will increase support for ambulance services across the state.

The Minnesota Ambulance Association (MAA) says that federal support for ambulance services began decreasing in the 1980s while the cost of operations has steadily increased, maintaining that running just one ambulance 24 hours a day, 7 days a week costs close to $1 million annually.

Costs aren’t the only thing rising: An increasing call load is putting more pressure on the EMTs and paramedics who respond to medical emergencies. The MAA says each year, 800 ambulances across Minnesota respond to nearly 715,000 service calls, and wages aren’t keeping up with the workload. Advocates say EMS workers are leaving the field in droves.

Data from the Minnesota Emergency Medical Regulatory Services Board suggests:

  • Of EMTs not renewing their license and leaving the profession, nearly 65% are under the age of 40
  • In 2021, 4,474 certifications expired while 1,558 certifications were issued – a deficit of 2,916 EMS providers
  • 39% of EMS providers leaving the profession said their decision was influenced by low pay

“This is probably one of the most important things coming up in the next 10 to 20 years as our population gets older and older,” said Dr. Aaron Burnett, an EMS advisor for several agencies in the Twin Cities east metro. “As a state we shouldn’t wait until there’s a public outcry because people can’t get an ambulance in a timely manner. Every day citizens in Minnesota rely on EMS services for emergency care. We owe it to those patients to ensure our EMS system is appropriately supported and funded at the state level.”

Among the potential solutions being shared with state lawmakers:

  • Increased reimbursement levels from federal and state governments by realizing opportunities to leverage more federal dollars for governmental payers.
  • Focus on improving retention of the current EMS workforce by implementing measures like ncome tax subtractions for volunteer fire & rescue Workers (HF98).
  • Develop and support future EMS workers by establishing incentives like a Paramedic Scholarship Program (HF 165), and increase funding to pay current and new EMTs (under HF 141).

“We still have to respond, we still have patients that need to be cared for and transported and we can’t simply increase what we bill because what we bill doesn’t correspond with what we actually get paid when we’re talking about Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement,” said Steven County EMS Director Josh Fischer. “We need our elected officials at all levels to help us pursue sustainable solutions to these challenges.”