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City of Laurel proposes $450K to combat EMS staffing shortage

Laurel EMS
Posted at 6:07 PM, Sep 18, 2023
and last updated 2023-09-18 20:07:06-04

The city of Laurel has proposed a $450,000 mill levy to help combat its emergency-medical staffing shortage.

The levy will be decided by mail-in vote on Nov. 7 and would make room for an additional three to five full-time ambulance workers for the service. For the owners of a $200,000 home, the levy would cost $11.25 per month. For the owner of a $300,000 home, the cost would be $16.89 per month.

This levy comes at a time when EMS agencies all over the country are facing staffing problems. According to a nationwide industry survey, nearly 66 percent of all EMS agencies have seen a decline in job applications over the past four years.

That issue is apparent in Laurel. Wendy Wong, an emergency medical technician (EMT) who's worked for the service for 14 years, said the staffing problem has worsened in the last few years.

"When I first started this service, our call volume was hardly anything like what it is now," Wong said. "Now, we're running three to four calls a day and we're busy. There are times that I don't have a partner and have to go out on calls and try to help the patient by myself."

That stress is part of why many around the country aren't interested in the profession, but Wong said that's exactly what she loves about it.

"You never know what to expect," Wong said. "I mean it can definitely be a challenging job, but just to know that these people are calling us and relying on us to help them when they need is a great feeling."

But that doesn't mean that more help could be used. Laurel EMS Director Lyndy Gurchiek said that there are times when her team can't even respond to the calls they receive.

"We have holes in our schedule, unfortunately," Gurchiek said. "Sometimes we have one provider that responds and sometimes we don't have any provider that responds."

Gurchiek said that in 2022, the agency received 1,238 calls for service, and 177 of those went unanswered because no ambulances were available. That means 14 percent of the time, their team couldn't do their job and were forced to rely on mutual aid from nearby communities.

"If you call 9-1-1, I think most people expect that if they need an ambulance, one is going to come, and that's just not the case," Gurchiek said. "That's a really tough thing for us to sit here and know we could have a full staff and go all the time, but we aren't able to just because we don't have the funding."

Oftentimes those other community EMS services aren't better off. Just last week, Red Lodge voters turned down a similar mill levy that would've provided its service with more funding. That decision makes Gurchiek anxious for her city's vote.

"The rural communities are really struggling, and some have even been forced to close their doors, unfortunately," Gurchiek said. "Our goal is to hire at least two people, upwards of five people to help fill that schedule 24/7."

It's a big ask, but one Gurchiek's team said could mean a world of difference with lives often at stake.

“They call us and we’re the ones that are there to help them," Wong said. "If this doesn’t pass we’ll just keep going and try again."