July 1, 2008

Medics Get Reason to Stay

By Kim Archer, Tulsa World, Okla.

Jul. 1--Jerome Gilley timed his paramedic training just right.

Under a new Emergency Medical Services Authority program, Gilley is getting paid for nearly two years of training at Tulsa Technology Center to become a paramedic.

"They actually pay me to go to school," he said. "You can't beat that."

While working as an emergency medical technician for EMSA for nearly a year, Gilley saw co-workers struggle to work full time while fitting in paramedic classes where they could.

The new program allows emergency medical technicians to work two 12-hour shifts a week and attend school two days while getting paid for a 48-hour work week. In return, Gilley and others in the program agree to work as full-time EMSA paramedics for two years after training.

"This is not near as stressful," he said. "It works fairly nice."

As Oklahoma's largest employer of emergency medical services, EMSA has launched a nearly $4 million initiative to recruit, train and retain paramedics to avoid labor shortages that are crippling ambulance services across the country.

Glenn Leland, EMSA's chief operating officer, said, "We did a wage survey of this region of the country and found that wages are rising faster

than normal inflation."

To remain competitive, EMSA increased by 12.5 percent the salaries of paramedics, EMTs and medical dispatchers, he said.

That brought the average yearly pay for an EMSA paramedic to $43,000. Emergency medical technicians, who have less formal training and fewer responsibilities, are paid an average of $29,000 a year now. EMSA also has provided retention bonuses to patient-care personnel who are willing to commit to another year of service.

"When you factor in costs of recruitment, background checks and other prehire testing, our multiweek orientation program and uniforms, it costs nearly $3,000 to bring a new paramedic into our system," Leland said. "We'd rather spend that money on retention and keep veteran paramedics from leaving EMSA."

EMSA's work force is relatively stable now, but the call volume has risen 10 percent a year for the last five years, Leland said. More patients require more health-care workers, he said.

"It's not so much the population is growing, but it's the aging of America," he said. "That puts more pressure on the labor force."

EMSA expects to enroll 20 EMTs in both the Tulsa and Oklahoma City training programs each year to ensure that Oklahomans have adequate access to medical care, Leland said.

For Gilley, whose ultimate goal was always to be a paramedic, the new training program got him going sooner.

"I can only imagine how hard it was before," he said. "This is a lot easier."

Kim Archer 581-8315 [email protected]


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