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Ambulance ride along shows first hand impact of TRAA paramedic shortage

Published: Nov. 11, 2021 at 11:28 AM EST
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FORT WAYNE, Ind. (Fort Wayne’s NBC) - The paramedic shortage in Fort Wayne has been ongoing for more than a year and those feeling the impact the most are the first responders on the streets everyday.

Getting into the passenger seat of a TRAA ambulance was perhaps the best way to see - first hand - the impact of the shortage.

When you call 911, Michael Manz is ready to respond. Manz is ready to be by the side of your loved ones, caring for them when they need it most.

Paramedic Need
Paramedic Need(Fort Wayne's NBC)

“I enjoy being a paramedic and I like helping and working with people,” Manz said. “That’s the most rewarding part.”

Manz has been in emergency medical services for 27 years. He’s been with TRAA for 22 years and was recently promoted to director of operations for the paramedics.

“There are times when things are intense and times where things don’t go well,” Manz said.

He knows the impact of the paramedic shortage first hand. He says it’s been stressful to say the least.

“It’s very stressful. It’s very stressful for the dispatchers,” he said. “It’s very stressful for the medics and as a supervisor.”

Manz says their response times have been down because of the lack of workers. They are supposed to make it to a call within 8 and a half minutes, but Manz says sometimes calls can take up to 20 minutes.

“The time it takes us to get there has changed, we want to fix that and it’s not okay,” he said.

Fort Wayne’s NBC reporter Karli VanCleave has been investigating this problem for months. Her coverage has included responses from each key leader in the problem and their idea of how to fix the problem.

She’s talked to new TRAA Executive Director Joel Benz, former I.A.E.P. Union President Ian Case, City Councilman Russ Jehl and now she’s talking to TRAA Chief Operating Officer Mike Bureau.

paramedic need
paramedic need(Fort Wayne's NBC)

“We saw some paramedics leaving prior to me getting here last September,” Bureau said. “That was frustration with COVID, or going on to other opportunities.”

The contractor hired Bureau in September of 2020 and before that he held the same job at an ambulance contractor in South Dakota.

“It’s been difficult days. The public is counting on us,” he said. “The employee group is counting on me to keep things moving in the right direction.”

Bureau is responsible for making sure response time stay within compliance, 8 and a half minutes, and otherwise the TRAA board has to fine them. In September, they only met that compliance 70 percent of the time.

Between January and September of 2021, the TRAA board has fined the contractor $1,117,930. Bureau says recently they made a decision to use those fines to give 7% of paramedics and EMTs total compensation back to them in the form of a bonus.

“As a contractor, that’s a two edged sword,” he said. “On one aspect I understand it’s the best way to hold us accountable to that contractual requirement. On the other hand, we are in unprecedented times and we’ve been wondering if that’s the best way to go about it.”

Bureau says he believes the pandemic is to blame for the lack of workers. He says right now they are working with only 22 paramedics when they need 38 per day.

paramedic need
paramedic need(Fort Wayne's NBC)

“As an industry, the blow that really struck us was COVID,” he said. “We do need to be held accountable for these contracts but it’s unprecedented times coming out of a pandemic.”

Bureau says COVID-19 affected the way they get new employees. He says paramedics and EMTs need hands-on learning in order to get certified. When classes went virtual, they began losing more employees than they were gaining.

“I’ve never lost faith, but it’s difficult to lead during a time like this,” he said. “I find it hard, but I just have to remind myself that we all just have to rely on one another.”

Bureau says to help with the lack of workers, they began a program called ‘Earn to Learn’ where people with no experience can get paid to become an EMT and eventually a paramedic.

As for Manz, he says he loves working as a paramedic. Despite the challenges, he says he’s not ready to give up but he’s not afraid to say they need help.

“Shortages are everywhere, it’s a nationwide problem, but we have our own issues here,” Manz said. “There are things that organizations could have done better, the states could have done better, it’s a multi-faceted issue.”

For more information about where to apply for TRAA, click here.

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