MEMPHIS, Tenn. Now that Shelby County has secured more ambulances, it faces another problem - ambulance service provider Rural/Metro can't find the paramedics to staff them.
A shortage of paramedics in Shelby County and around the Mid-South has made it difficult to hire the 22 additional paramedics and 22 EMTs needed to staff the contract's six additional ambulances, said Glenn Miller, the division general manager for Rural/Metro.
The company employs about 30 paramedics to fulfill the current contract with six ambulances and three in reserves.
"We're doing everything we can before we have to get paramedics on the street," Miller said "We're hoping for a ramp-up period."
The problem, Miller said, is there just aren't enough paramedics to go around.
"It has turned into a feeding frenzy," Miller said. "Everybody is wanting paramedics."
Glenn Faught, chair of the emergency medical services program at Southwest Tennessee Community College, said the region, from Senatobia, Miss., up through Shelby County is 100 to 200 paramedics short.
"That would be to reach normal operating level," he said.
A large portion of the shortage is in Memphis. In January, citing the Memphis Fire Department's need for more than 80 additional paramedics, the City Council voted to extend the residency requirement area beyond Memphis so the fire department could hire from a larger pool.
A lack of schools in the region to train paramedics is also part of the problem. Low salaries are another.
Southwest is the only school in Shelby County that trains paramedics, graduating about 30 to 40 each year, which does not fill the area's needs.
Faught said the college is adding more classes with the hopes of graduating 50-60 paramedics. "We're going to increase the number due to the shortage."
Jackson State Community College and Northwest Mississippi Community College also offer paramedic-training programs.
Another problem is that trained paramedics often choose jobs in hospitals rather than with fire departments or ambulance service providers because "they can make more money with better benefits," Faught said.
To lure more paramedics, Rural/Metro has launched a national advertising campaign. It also has raised salaries to $47,000 per year and is offering a $10,000 sign-on bonus for a limited time.
Miller said before the contract goes into effect July 1, they'll do what they can to hire enough employees to staff the three shifts of 12 to 16 paramedics each day.
"I would imagine I'll be on an ambulance," said Miller, who, along with other administrators at Rural/Metro, is a licensed paramedic. "We'll do whatever it takes to take care of the county."