OKLAHOMA CITY -- Concerns that Oklahoma could face the same shortage of skilled emergency medical services personnel seen in other parts of the country have prompted the state's largest emergency medical services employer to boost its pay and benefits.
Earlier this month, Texas-based Paramedics Plus Inc. increased salaries, provided retention bonuses and implemented a revamped paramedic training program to help recruit and retain paramedics, emergency medical technicians and medical dispatchers. The company supplies employees and services for Emergency Medical Services Authority.
"We saw the writing on the wall," said Tina Wells, EMSA's vice president. "Other cities were at the crisis point."
EMSA is the trust authority of the Tulsa and Oklahoma City city governments, which contracts out to find companies to provide personnel for its ambulance services, Wells said. EMSA is the sole provider for ambulance services for Tulsa, Sand Springs, Bixby, Jenks, Oklahoma City and 11 other state communities.
About the initiative* A 12.5 percent increase in salaries, bringing the average yearly earnings for an EMSA paramedic to $43,000. Employees certified at the EMT-basic level can expect to earn $29,000.
* Retention bonuses for patient care staff that commit to another year of EMSA service. Paramedics and dispatchers will receive $3,000, and emergency medical technicians and materials technicians who clean and stock ambulances between calls, will receive $2,000.
* A revamped training program that allows emergency medical technicians training to be paramedics to work two, 12-hour shifts a week and attend classes two days a week while receiving pay for a standard 48-hour work week. In return, emergency medical technicians must agree to work full time as EMSA paramedics for two years following training.
Keeping workers here EMSA has about 600 employees, Wells said. And while the state doesn't have a personnel shortage, the new work force initiative "is about recruiting, retaining and helping people advance up the career path."
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual earnings of paramedics and emergency medical technicians was $27,070 just two years ago. But a rapidly changing health care industry, more job opportunities for trained paramedics and an aging population are affecting the industry.
Hospitals and fire departments are now hiring more paramedics, said Glen Leland, Paramedics Plus' chief operating officer.
"There is a documented shortage in allied healthcare workers, nationally and in Oklahoma. The crisis is very real in many cities and towns across America. We manage some other systems like EMSA across the country and we wanted to get ahead of this," Wells said.
"We have had an increase in the volume of calls, about 10 percent a year for the past five years," he said.
Once trained, paramedics can work anywhere, but Leland said the initiative, Oklahoma's lower cost of living and its advanced emergency medical services systems could encourage trained workers to stay or move here.
In the past school tuition for students was paid, but they had to fit classes into a 48-hour work week, Wells said.
Other shortages There are critical shortages in other health fields.
Nursing and allied health jobs, including respiratory therapists, radiologists and medical lab personnel are all areas needing workers, said Sheryl McLain, executive director of the Oklahoma Health Care Workforce Center.
McLain said the immediate issue is the lack of faculty in those fields. People are interested in entering those careers yet are being turned away because there aren't enough teachers. And as health care is the second largest employer in the state, "it's a big concern," she added.