Rhonda Silence

North Shore Health ambulance service in midst of “staffing crisis”

The North Shore Health ambulance service is in the midst of what the ambulance director describes as a “staffing crisis.” WTIP visited the ambulance garage recently to learn more about the situation.

Asked why this is happening, Ambulance Director Tom Fleming acknowledged that there is often a fluctuation in the number of people on the ambulance crew. He said many of the people who become emergency medical responders (EMRs) are young and still exploring their career options. They join the ambulance service to try out emergency services but find that it isn’t something they want to continue. In the current situation, there have been a number of young ambulance members who left the community to be nearer to family or to pursue other career options.

Hence, the current staffing crisis. Fleming encourages anyone who has considered working or volunteering in medical services to contact him. North Shore Health would help with training. North Shore Health needs EMRs, Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs), and paramedics.

An EMR is an “extra set of hands” for the EMTs and paramedics, according to Fleming—helping move patients, taking blood pressure or temperatures, driving the ambulance, and just being there to reassure the patient.

Fleming said training to become an EMR takes about 50 hours, and much of it is online. The current hospital and ambulance crew provide the necessary hands-on training.

EMRs are volunteers, but Fleming adds that is a bit misleading. There is a stipend for EMR volunteers, including $7 per hour for being on call.

Fleming added that a third of the work done by the ambulance service is transfers to other medical facilities, to Duluth hospitals and beyond. Fleming said it helps immensely when EMRs become ambulance drivers, leaving the EMTs and paramedics in the county for critical emergency response.

Training to become an EMT is also offered through North Shore Health. That training is about 150 hours. After passing the national registry exam, EMTs could possibly join the ambulance crew as paid staffers. After working for North Shore Health for a year, the hospital reimburses the cost of the training.

Fleming said the ambulance service needs a couple more EMRs and EMTs and at least one more paramedic.
North Shore Health has created a way to make things easier for people who want to take shifts on the ambulance staff but who do not live within the required five-minute response time. The building on the hospital grounds that was the Masonic Hall has been converted to living quarters for people on call for the ambulance (or lab and x-ray services). Fleming said the newly remodeled building gives people a safe and comfortable place to stay while on call.

Asked if people should think twice about calling the ambulance for an illness or injury, Fleming said, “No, not at all. We don’t want anybody to feel they don’t have this service.”

But he added, “We need people for the future of the service.”

Anyone who would like to apply for any of these positions can do so online at North Shore Health. To learn more, call Fleming at 218-387-3262. Fleming added, “Leave a message if I’m not in.” If he is not in, it is likely because he is on an ambulance call.

Here’s WTIP’s Rhonda Silence’s report from the ambulance garage.