Medics say staffing shortage is killing morale at ATCEMS

Austin-Travis County EMS ambulance (KXAN Photo)
Austin-Travis County EMS ambulance (KXAN Photo)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Medics with Austin-Travis County EMS say staffing shortages within the department are leading to too much overtime and low morale.

KXAN received a Report It from an anonymous man who says he’s an ATCEMS paramedic, reading in part:

“Numerous paramedics are having to be forced to work overtime, which is taking a huge toll on the city’s budget, but nobody seems to be talking about it. It is also bad for morale when you are constantly having to be called in on your days off.”

ATCEMS Chief of Staff Jasper Brown says 71 positions are vacant within his department. That’s nearly 13 percent of the department’s field crew.

Brown says the main cause of the vacancies isn’t from employees leaving, but because 52 new positions were created last year.  “Some of those positions were added to us to help our folks reduce from a 48-hour work week to a 42-hour work week.”

In an effort to create shorter work weeks, the switch created a need for medics to work overtime until those newly created positions are filled.

Currently, filling those positions is difficult, Brown says, because ATCEMS’ contract with the city expired last year.

Most of the vacancies are for upper level positions, that can only be filled through promotions.

Under the department’s previous contract, an employee only had to serve one year as an entry level medic, or “medic one,” before he or she could be promoted and become a paramedic or “medic two.” However, under civil service law, which ATCEMS now is operating under without a contract, entry-level medics must serve two years before they can be promoted.

“We can’t bring in more people until we promote those other folks, so it’s kind of a domino effect to fill all of the vacancies,” Brown said.

The agency also recently raised its standards for entry level medics, requiring them to have a year’s experience somewhere else. It’s helped cut down on turnover rates, but when hiring, Brown says, “That narrows the pool.”

The agency plans to fill 28 of its 31 entry-level medic vacancies next week, with an academy that starts Monday. Brown says more vacancies will be filled this summer, when the department is able to promote others.

“We don’t want people working more than they would like to,” Brown said. “But we are a public safety agency and have to staff to that.”

President of the Austin-Travis County EMS Association Anthony Marquardt responded in a statement, saying:

We are concerned over the ongoing vacancies that the EMS department carries. This is now compounded by the city being out of contract with our EMS workforce who are below market for the growing demand for Paramedics on a local, regional and nationwide scope. Despite an ever growing call volume, mandatory overtime, and lack of needed resources, our EMS professionals continue to provide exemplary service. Unfortunately, the use of emergency staffing has become a regular means of keeping the scheduled filled. It is a morale concern when management does the equivalent of declaring an emergency several times a month as a routine staffing strategy.”

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