INDIANAPOLIS, Ind.-- Indianapolis EMS is welcoming a new class of EMTs and paramedics this week, at a time when there is a shortage of them.
"I always wanted a career in public safety," Brian Plew said. "The biggest thanks is knowing that you personally helped somebody."
Plew was one of 32 new people sworn into IEMS Tuesday and Thursday.
"10-19 years ago, for every spot we had open, we had 10-15 applicants," Dr. Charles Miramonti, the chief of IEMS said. "Today it's shifted dramatically, much more so for paramedics than for EMTs, but we hope if we can grab them early on and pull them in the world of EMS and keep them for a long time it's win for everybody."
Dr. Miramonti said the shortage is felt in Indianapolis and across the state and country. He thinks it stems from issues with recruitment. An IEMS spokesperson said less people are becoming paramedics.
"We are now recruiting into high schools more and to younger generations more . We changed our requirements, we changed sort of our background needs for EMTs and new hires. We also don't require folks to have any prior ems experience, so we pay you to go to school, we pay you to go to the academy program and essentially grow in our service and that's just to get in the door," he said.
The Indiana Department of Homeland Security said the number of EMT and paramedic certifications issued each year has remained fairly consistent. In 2017, there were 1,500 EMT certifications issued and 222 paramedic certifications. In 2015, there were 1,712 EMT certifications issued and 277 paramedic certifications.
An IDHS spokesperson said the shortage can be attributed in part to an increase in demand for positions.
"While the original role of paramedics and EMTs was to provide medical support in ambulances, there has been an increase in the number of EMTs and paramedics being used to remedy staffing shortages in hospitals, doctor's offices and other health care providers," an IDHS spokesperson wrote.
The president of the Indiana EMS Association, Nathaniel Metz, attributes the shortage in part to fewer paramedics actively working in EMS and a greater demand for the position. He said for Hoosiers, that can mean communities unable to bring in higher levels of care, longer 911 response times and delayed transport times between hospitals.
"Not enough is what we're doing to be perfectly honest with you. The problem is multifaceted, the pay is not great for a paramedic and EMT and that's just the truth of it. So a lot of people are in the field for a little while but they use it as a stepping stone to go to another career level where they can make more money and work less hours," Metz said. "The pays not gonna change until reimbursement changes so that's one big problem. Now what we're trying to do with it is obviously the association on the legislative side is trying to change our reimbursement structure so we can pay these folks more money, the money they deserve, but we're also trying to make it out to the public and make it into schools and make it into high schools where some individuals you know this might be a perfect fit for them."
But in Indianapolis, Dr. Miramonti said response times are not an issue. IEMS is recruiting at younger ages and has implemented programs to help pay for EMT's and paramedics education, in an effort to get more people higher certifications.
On the state level, IDHS said the state is taking steps to address the need. It said Indiana is in the process of aligning its EMT and paramedic course curriculum with standards that would certify people on a national level. It also said the state's Workforce Ready Grant and Employer Training Grant, part of Governor Eric Holcomb's Next Level Jobs initiative, may help Hoosiers receive financial help to obtain the training and certifications needed.
But at IEMS' swearing in ceremony, there was a promising sign for the future.
"Going to be an EMT for a little bit and then hopefully go to medic school and become a paramedic," Plew said. "And at least for the future, we'll see where we go from there."