Pittsburgh Seeks EMTs to Reduce Paramedic Workload

Pittsburgh wants to hire 20 emergency medical technicians to ease an increasing workload for city paramedics and reduce mounting overtime costs.

The Mayor’s Office on Monday outlined plans to recruit more Emergency Medical Services workers by increasing salaries for new paramedics and hiring EMTs for the first time since the 1990s.

Officials estimated the added cost of salaries would be $1.2 million per year and said they plan to cover that through reduced overtime and lowered workman’s compensation payments.

“The goal is to address the problem of increased call volume … and make sure residents of Pittsburgh are supplied with quality emergency medical services,” said Public Safety Director Wendell Hissrich.

He said yearly medical calls increased to 60,618 last year, up from 54,773 in 2004, with about the same number of paramedics handling those calls.

Because of that, the city forces paramedics to work overtime nearly every day, he said.

Pittsburgh through June paid $2.3 million “” nearly 68 percent of its $3.4 million overtime budget “” in premium pay to EMS workers, according to the Mayor’s Office. From 2011 to 2015, it paid $5.1 million in workers’ compensation claims because of job-related injuries to aging EMS employees.

Forty percent of the EMS workforce is older than 50, officials said.

Less than half of all EMS calls require a paramedic to perform advanced life support services, including dispensing medicines and performing medical procedures for clearing airways, Hissrich said.

He said lesser-paid EMTs trained in basic life support services such as cardiopulmonary resuscitation and using a defibrillator can handle most calls.

Pittsburgh has trouble recruiting EMS workers because pay is lower than private ambulance services in the region and the city requires its employees to live in Pittsburgh.

The city seeks to attract 20 emergency medical technicians and six paramedics by upping salaries.

New paramedics will be paid $17.93 per hour, up from $15.05, under agreements between the city and the Fraternal Association of Professional Paramedics Local 1. Salaries for new EMTs will start at $15 per hour and increase to $15.13 per hour in 2017 and $15.61 per hour in 2018, according to the agreements.

Jeff Tremel, president of the paramedics union, said Pittsburgh laid off its EMTs in 2004 during a financial crisis.

“I’m hoping this will lighten the workload,” Tremel said. “We’re still going to be busy, unfortunately, but it will help a little.”

Hissrich said the city will have two ambulances staffed daily by two emergency medical technicians on morning and afternoon shifts. It also intends to have one standby EMS crew available for every shift.

The city budgeted this year for 175 paramedics, including managers, at salaries totaling $10 million. It expects to recoup $11.8 million by billing insurance companies for medical services. The total EMS budget is $17.8 million.

Bob Bauder is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-765-2312 or bbauder@tribweb.com

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