SUSQUEHANNA TOWNSHIP, Pa. (WHTM) — Like many businesses, ambulance services are in a tough spot right now and it’s led one Midstate company to raise its starting wages, but that move comes with some risk.
EMS companies say for years, they’ve been making do without an increase in reimbursements from insurance providers which makes up the bulk of their funding.
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But faced with a staffing crisis, they say expecting people to do dangerous work for low pay just isn’t a sustainable model anymore.
Susquehanna Township EMS in Dauphin County has open positions. It needs to fill them.
“If we have no staff, we run no calls. We make no revenue,” Don Kunst, executive director of Susquehanna Township EMS, said.
Even though revenue has been stagnant, the board decided last week it was important to increase starting wages for EMTs from $12.50 to $15 an hour.
“We had essentially no applicants last week and this week we have five, so proof is in the pudding,” Kunst said.
Current employees got raises, too.
“We’ve been studying this problem for a while and realized we have to be in the game pay-wise competitive,” Kunst said.
At Silver Spring Ambulance in Cumberland County, Chief James Knepper is in a similar situation.
“Certainly COVID with medical supplies and the cost of fuel and maintenance on the ambulances have skyrocketed over the last 12 months and we have to make up the difference,” Knepper said.
They had been paying between $12 and $15 dollars an hour for a beginning EMT before he became chief in January.
“Our current rates are between $14 and $20 an hour,” Knepper said. We do pay a $2 an hour differential for our part-time staff that work on weekends.”
Both companies are tracking their bottom lines closer than ever and looking to make money in new ways, knowing it’s unlikely they’ll get an increase in insurance reimbursement rates.
“We need some support from federal and state levels to support what we do on an everyday basis, but we operationally have decided that we’re going to make some operational changes for even more improved efficiency,” Kunst said.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median hourly rate for EMTs and paramedics nationwide is just $17.62 an hour.