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Paramedic and EMT shortage being felt in Southeastern Minnesota

A shortage of trained Emergency Medical Technicians and Paramedics is not only a problem for rural areas but the effects are also being felt in Rochester.

Posted: May 28, 2018 5:21 PM

ST. CHARLES, Minn. - A shortage of trained Emergency Medical Technicians and Paramedics is not only a problem for rural areas but the effects are also being felt in Rochester.

As a way to combay the dwindling numbers Mayo Clinic began its own Paramedic proram in 2014, but even that hasn't been filling all of the full-time openings within the Mayo Clinic system.

Kristine Engstrand is one of eighteen volunteers at St. Charles Ambulance just east of Rochester. On average, they will respond to 350-400 calls every year. The department is lucky enough to have two ambulances.

"The first one is scheduled and mandated by the state. We have to have 2 EMT's minimum and they have to be nationally certified, which is an extra exam we have to take," explained EMT Kristine Engstrand.

Essentially, if one of the ambulances is not staffed at all times and there was a call they needed to respond to, the state could fine them. The biggest challenge for St. Charles Ambulance is making sure the day staffs are covered, with volunteers busy at their full-time jobs.

The ambulance department has even gone so far as to offer financial perks to new recruits.

"What we do is actually pay for their schooling as an incentive. They do need to stay with us for two years," said Engstrand.

While many EMTs will stay with St. Charles ambulance, a handful of them will consider the job a stepping stone to being a Paramedic or RN. If they leave and take another position, it causes a cyclical shortage.

Engstrand believes a lot of people aren't looking to go into the profession because of the wages.

"The profession as a whole the salaries are low people have to do very stringent education to do what we do… that costs money and when the salary and pay scale is not supporting that it is a big deterrent," said Engstrand.

Not only that, but volunteers in St. Charles have a set number of hours they need to work a month and extra trainings.

Dan Anger directirs Mayo's Paramedic Program and said within the Mayo Clinic system there are currently nine full-time Paramedic jobs available.

"It has been taxing on some team members to fill extra shifts and go above and beyond the call of duty per say to help out and cover those shifts," explained Anger.

The program is graduating Paramedics, including Katie Meyer and Dan Patterson, both of whom are now employed at Gold Cross Mayo Clinic.

If you're curious what separates and EMT from a Paramedic:

"To become an EMT you have to take a one semester college course usually around 150 hours give or take where they learn life-saving maneuvers - basic life support, trauma care," said Anger.

Paramedics have more schooling and training as they're able to do more invasive techniques.

"Very extensive hospital skills from IV's and medications that we can give all the way up to some of the procedures that we can perform such as surgical airways," said Paramedic Katie Meyer.

The demand for EMTs and Paramedics is expected to continue. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics more than 30,000 new jobs are set to become available before 2026.

As another avenue to curb the shortage, Anger told KIMT the Mayo Paramedic Program is considering recruiting in high schools to pique students interest in medicine at a younger age.

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