For the past ten years, a growing shortage of emergency medical technicians and paramedics has forced ambulance services and 911 systems to make cuts and consolidate their operations so they can continue to provide timely emergency services to people across the country.
When the coronavirus pandemic hit, the problem went from bad to worse, with staffing shortages reported from Texas to Michigan to Main. The shortages resulted in longer wait times for people who needed immediate medical attention, especially for people living in rural parts of the country.
"The magnitude has really blown up over the last few months," American Ambulance Association President Shawn Baird told NBC News. "When you take a system that was already fragile and stretched it because you didn't have enough people entering the field, then you throw a public health emergency and all of the additional burdens that it put on our workforce as well as the labor shortages across the entire economy, and it really has put us in a crisis mode."
Last week, the American Ambulance Association and the National Association of Emergency Medical Technicians sent a letter to Congress asking for federal funds so they can afford to retain current workers and recruit new ones.
"Our nation's EMS system is facing a crippling workforce shortage, a long-term problem that has been building for more than a decade. It threatens to undermine our emergency 9-1-1 infrastructure and deserves urgent attention by the Congress," they wrote.
"The pandemic exacerbated this shortage and highlighted our need to better understand the drivers of workforce turnover. There are many factors. Our ambulance crews are suffering under the grind of surging demand, burnout, fear of getting sick, and stresses on their families. In addition, with COVID-19 halting clinical and in-person trainings for a long period of time, our pipeline for staff is stretched even more," the letter continued.