The MedStar board of directors approved funding Wednesday to start a training academy for paramedics and emergency medical technicians.
The Area Metropolitan Ambulance Authority, which operates MedStar, included the academy in its $22 million budget for 2007-08. The academy will pay trainees while they get certified through Tarrant County College, a move meant to improve recruitment and retention and stave off a critical staffing shortage.
MedStar, which serves Fort Worth and 14 other area cities, has failed for more than two years to meet its goal of responding to life-threatening calls in a timely manner. The ambulance provider has been so understaffed recently that Fort Worth began using off-duty firefighters as a stopgap measure.
"Right now, our staffing is not anywhere near what we need to meet our response times," said Jack Eades, MedStar executive director. "Even if we changed the clock, we wouldn't meet those response times. We hope some of these new initiatives will help us stabilize our staffing levels."
The ambulance provider is expected to reach 90 percent of Priority 1 calls in less than nine minutes -- an industry standard.
A recent report to the Fort Worth City Council shows that MedStar continues to lag in response times even with the help of firefighters, and Fort Worth Mayor Mike Moncrief expressed dissatisfaction at Tuesday's City Council meeting.
The ambulance authority will pay EMTs to go through a paramedic course with the stipulation that they work for MedStar for three years. Another program will hire rookie EMTs and pay for their training with a one-year obligation.
The ambulance board also:
Approved paying a bonus for weekend shifts.
Agreed to fund an online college credit program.
Formed a committee to hire a consultant to review MedStar's entire operation to determine whether there are better options for area cities. Some of the options discussed would be to hire a third-party company, let a city run the program or integrate service into a fire department.
"We have sat here and worked through a lot of things and come up with a lot of good answers," said John Hernandez, a member of the board. "I think we should give ourselves an opportunity to work our way through this crisis based on what we did today and what we have going."
Dr. John Griswell, a board member and MedStar's medical director, said he is concerned about MedStar's 30 percent attrition rate.
MedStar needs 77 paramedics and 77 EMTs to be fully staffed. It is short 16 paramedics and 22 EMTs, but classes are expected to nearly fill the vacancies by mid-November, when it will have a surplus of three EMTs and be short one paramedic.
"We have a very narrow window of opportunity to correct these things before we continue to have the turnover that has plagued the system," Griswell said.
The ambulance authority gets about $1.4 million of its budget from its 15 cities.
EMTs will be paid while taking courses at Tarrant County College.
Training time will be cut to about eight months from 16 months.
A three-year commitment would be required after completion; paramedics would work off one-third of the $23,300 cost for each year of service.
Emergency medical technician training
Applicants with no experience would be paid a stipend while taking courses at TCC.
Training time would be cut to four weeks from three months.
A one-year commitment would be required after completion; EMTs would work off the cost, about $2,600 in one year.
Weekend shift bonus
Paramedics and EMTs would receive an extra $2 per hour for weekend shifts.
MedStar would pay for online college credit through iStudy Smart.
Source: Area Metropolitan Ambulance Authority
Anthony Spangler, email@example.com