Better Days Ahead: Poor economy causes EMS to retool for the future - Administration and Leadership - @

Better Days Ahead: Poor economy causes EMS to retool for the future


A.J. Heightman, MPA, EMT-P | From the June 2009 Issue | Tuesday, June 2, 2009

The economy is in shambles right now. Wall Street investment firms have crumbled, and retirement funds have tanked. The government has had to step in and bail out financial institutions and car manufacturers. Throughout the U.S., unemployment is as high as 10Ï15%. In one city, it_s a whopping 25%. In one region, bank robberies have increased 22%. In others, homicides have increased as much as 120%.

Experts fear we will see an increase in suicides by the elderly as they attempt to avoid leaving their heirs with debts created by the failing economy. It_s also feared that rates of spousal and child abuse will increase, as people who we_d never expect to lash out will do so as the stress of reduced or eliminated incomes, combined with high debts, causes them to crack. These all have implications for EMS.

For many EMS personnel, this is not their first encounter with financial hardship; they_ve lived with it for years. But the current economic decline is exacerbating their situation. Countless EMS workers have long been unable to afford to live in the communities where they work, particularly in larger cities. Some personnel are now strapped with escalating credit card debt or mounting unpaid bills. Still others have received bare-bones benefits from their employers for years, and many outside the public sector have not been blessed with retirement plans that match their contributions and provide uniform allowances or educational benefits.

EMS wages were subpar long before the current economic downturn. Now pay increases for private-sector personnel, or salary parity for third-service and single-role EMS crews with municipal fire and police officers, is destined to be pushed to the back burner for some time to come. Many EMS personnel (and their families) will be forced to curtail spending and augment their incomes.

Municipal officials, faced with unprecedented shortfalls, claim they_re being forced to make deep cuts in their public safety budgets. But there_s a hidden villain in the darkness of our current economic condition that we have to be ready to counter. Already guilty of taking their emergency responders for granted for decades, many government leaders are using the economy as an excuse to make cuts to vital services the public normally wouldn_t tolerate. In some cities, they_re closing fire stations and laying off uniformed and clerical staff. In others, they_re reducing EMS staff, despite knowing that doing so will increase response time and service delays.

One city that considered such a drastic change is Columbus, Ohio, where one of the earliest and most respected fire department ALS systems in the country is located. Recently, city lawmakers threatened to reduce the fire response system to BLS-only to save the city money. Fortunately, Columbus officials realized a BLS-only system could create negative results in their community and backed off the service reduction.

Many cities are now rethinking how they deliver EMS and fire services, but we cannot allow officials to slip a fast one by the public. EMS agencies have to be ready with statistics and facts to alert officials and the public of the impact of staffing or vehicle deployment reductions. That means fire officials in Columbus and other cities might have to re-evaluate their service delivery models as a result of economic strain.

In this month_s cover story, "Shedding Light on the Economic Crisis" (p. 40), we take a close look at the impact the economy is having on EMS agencies, fire systems and managers operating in traditional EMS systems.

It_s not all doom and gloom. Despite economic problems, EMS crews are still hitting the streets every day, responding to the emergency needs of all patients, including elected officials_ mothers, parents and grandparents. And they_ll continue to respond without bias to the executive offices of banks and investment firms.

The order of the day is to not overreact. Volunteer and paid services need to re-evaluate their budgets and expenditures, squirrel away reserve funds for special projects and needs, maintain detailed program statistics and keep in front of the public with their best feet forward.

This has been a wake-up call for many personnel, alerting them of the need to participate in long-term retirement and conservative savings plans to ensure a future for their families and educational opportunities for their children.

It_s important to remember that the economy is cyclical and historically recovers over time. Keep your skills sharp, your attitude positive and your chin up. Better days are coming.JEMS


  1. "Bank robberies up as economy flounders." L.A. Now.
  2. "Crime goes up as economy goes down. The
  3. "Economy Drops and Results in Violence and Crime Against Youth and Seniors. Medical News

For more on the economy_s impact on EMS, read "PUMS and ALS at Risk"

Connect: Have a thought or feedback about this? Add your comment now
Related Topics: Administration and Leadership, Leadership and Professionalism, A.J. Heightman, Jems Case of the Month

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A.J. Heightman, MPA, EMT-P

JEMS Editor-in-Chief A.J. Heightman, MPA, EMT-P, has a background as an EMS director and EMS operations director. He specializes in MCI management.


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