Updated 07/04/2012 10:10 AM
Austin-Travis County EMS suffering staffing shortage
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Right now, about 130 paramedics take care of more than one million people in Austin and Travis County.
EMS Chief of Staff James Shamard says he's down 34 employees right now. Earlier this year, the agency began recruiting lesser-trained EMTs in addition to paramedics.
"Once you open up the scope and accept people that are certified at all three levels, basic, intermediate and advanced, then you open the doors to a broader, more diverse group of individuals," Shamard said.
Union president Tony Marquardt says the department is training 10 new hires now, and all of them are white men.
"We are not looking at an immediate fix,” he said. “If we don't get a handle on the hiring process, it will continue to lead to the staffing deficiency."
Austin-Travis County EMS hopes to gain another 25 employees when it finishes recruiting the next class in a couple weeks. However, the new EMTs and paramedics won't be ready until after the Austin City Limits Festival and Formula One race.
In the meantime, Marquardt warns the staffing shortage could get worse.
"We are at the threshold of not meeting our goals,” Marquardt said. “There will be a delay in the response of an ambulance."
According to Shamard, crews are still responding to 91 percent of the most serious calls in less than 10 minutes.
To help curb employee fatigue, they've started rotating crews.
"We have the majority of our crews work two 12-hour shifts on a busy truck,” he said. “Then they work a 24-hour shift on a slower truck that's located out in a suburban area to balance the workload."
Shamard says his turnover rate is extremely low, and most leave the department to further their education as a nurse or doctor.