(TNS) - Apr. 2—Daniel Hebert is only four months into his job at EMT basic with Acadian Ambulance, but already he already knows what pressure his employer and industry are facing when it comes to staffing.
There are overtime shifts. Some employees don't like it, but it's the reality in an industry that is having significant difficulty in finding employees.
Also part of that reality? Off days that are wind up being off days are rare.
"If I have an off day and I don't get called, it's kind of weird," said Hebert, who graduated from Acadiana High School last May and began with Acadian in December. "It's pretty close to every day. I don't go in every day. Sometimes I do tell them no."
Acadian isn't alone in its inability to find workers. EMTs and paramedics were in high demand prior to the pandemic, but since then the demands have only escalated along with the medical needs of the communities it serves.
EMTs, nurses, paramedics and others are being pulled to places where they traditionally haven't been before, said Casey Touchette, recruiting coordinator for Acadian.
"You're taking a depleted field and you're spreading it out even more, which is just crippling the ambulance service," Touchette said. "And then people burn out. You see it with nurses and doctors now in hospitals. The medical industry has been hurt so bad by this pandemic. The last year has been insane, to put it lightly, from a medical standpoint."
Acadian has long employed outreach programs to recruit new high school students through its Explorer program. Hebert participated in the program, which teaches students CPR and offers skills to work alongside EMTs at events. But recruitment efforts have ramped up in recent months, including the move last month to coordinate with the NAACP to offer full scholarships for EMT training in New Orleans and other cities in the state.
The initial 14-week program will fund 40 full scholarships — estimated at $1,200 per student — along with testing fees and uniforms for students in New Orleans, Lake Charles, Houma, Baton Rouge and Alexandria. The move will also help Acadian diversify its staff, CEO and chairman Richard Zuschlag said.
"We believe this initiative is so much more than workforce development," Zuschlag said. "This is an opportunity for caring individuals to enter a fulfilling and rewarding career in emergency medicine and care for their fellow citizens. We take great pride in being an inclusive company with a diverse workforce. Since our founding in 1971, the contributions of our African American employees have been and continue to be an integral reason for our company's growth and success."
National data on the number of openings available is unavailable, but pre-pandemic data did show the paramedic/EMT field was growing quickly. Data in 2019 from the Bureau of Labor Statistics indicated the number of EMT and paramedic jobs was expected to grow by 17,000. That's a 6% growth rate, which is higher than the average growth rate of 4%.
This spring Acadian will have 200 students graduating this spring and the company plans on hiring "every single one of them," Touchette said.
"Traditionally, it's been harder to get people into the profession and also retain them in the profession," said Harmony Rochon, assistant dean of allied health at South Louisiana Community College, which offers EMT and paramedic training programs in conjunction with the National EMS Academy.
"A lot of times people don't know much about it. Health care is a great field, but people see doctors and nurses and don't see the full picture of what is possible. Hopefully we are getting better, but at the same time we're in a health care crisis. As these things happen, we're relying on our front-line people. We need way more of them."
Acadian plans to meet with church groups, ministries and youth organizations, including classes this summer at the local YMCA in Port Arthur, Texas, Touchette said. The military is another target to try and lure employees.
Acadian has also begun hiring non-EMT personnel as ambulance drivers, he said.
"The recruiting industry has changed, too," he said. "It used to be they would come to us. Now we're actually having to go out and find them and build our own from the ground up. We are hitting the streets hard. There's nothing we're not trying at this point."
Caylie Guidry, an EMT who was also hired in December who also came through the Explorer program, considered a career in the military when she was at Acadiana High School before graduating in 2019. She worked out of New Orleans for a month and then spent two weeks in Tennessee with Acadian's operations there.
Much of her work has involved non-emergency transport, but she has responded to emergency situations.
"Once I joined the Explorer program, it changed my mind right then and there," Guidry said. "I do enjoy helping people a lot, and everybody that works for Acadian that I was around was like family. I like the family-like environment. It (the job) definitely takes someone who is 100% sure they want to do this."
Hebert noted how the job has unconventional hours and how other jobs might pay more and be less stressful. He works seven out of 14 days as Acadian's Hub City North station on North University Avenue, and many of those days he's there in 12-hours shifts.
"Those are pretty manageable," he said. "It's when you get to the 10-10 or noon-midnight shifts — those are the ones that are pretty hard to work through. I know people (here) who are married and have a couple of kids. They kind of work through it."
At SLCC, Rochon said they are trying to usher more students into the program as a entry point into the health care field. The college could have only 40 slots for students in the nursing program with 300 applicants, and the staff is trying to direct some of those students into the EMT/paramedic program where there are more openings.
"If you want to remain a paramedic, then that's wonderful," she said. "Even if I get 10% that flow through the funnel, that's amazing. I've at least got more people to help out that workforce on their way to whatever else."
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