Great Falls paramedics facing staff shortage

Posted at 5:48 PM, Oct 24, 2018
and last updated 2018-10-25 00:18:23-04

GREAT FALLS – First response agencies across the nation are facing a shortage of paramedics and Montana is no exception.

Several Great Falls agencies, however, are working together to battle the shortage.

Great Falls Emergency Services General Manager Justin Grohs said they currently have two openings for paramedics.

“From a service standpoint we are keeping our guard, but with these types of issues we do like to stay ahead of the problem,” Grohs said.

GFES said they changed the recruiting process to bring more people in from outside of Great Falls.

Over at Great Falls Fire Rescue, Assistant Jeremy Jones said 63 percent of the calls the department responds to on a daily basis are medical calls.

He said they have paramedics on their units because they have to respond to each and every call in a timely manner in order to have a positive outcome.

“In the last couple of years we have had a few members retire and we have had promotions with no program set up to fill those ranks up from below,” Jones said.

GFFR currently has 18 paramedics but 24 is their target goal, which would mean a paramedic is on every rig 365 days a year.

They are currently exploring other options within the community so they can train firefighters in Great Falls.

In July, Grohs approached GFFR to discuss the paramedic shortage.

“When we started to really look at it, historically here in Great Falls we have sent a paramedic to every single medical call that came into dispatch,” Grohs said.

Grohs added the reality is that most 911 calls paged out are for Basic Life Support.

Emergency Medical Technicians, or EMT, are trained in Basic Life Support procedures, which means applying oxygen, splinting, stopping bleeding, and using an automatic defibrillator.

Paramedics are trained in Advanced Life Support skills such as advanced airway procedures, being able to administer emergency medications, and also manage advanced cardiac assessments.

“Our original city contract stipulates that all ambulances that respond to 911 calls in the city needed to have a paramedic on board,” Grohs said.

With the two organizations working together, they came up with a solution,

In September, the city passed an amendment to the EMS Transport Contract.

“We entered into a memorandum of understanding with them for the remainder of this performance contract that the third ambulance can be at a Basic Life Support. Being that we provide Advanced Life Support coverage to our outside districts in our community. We are able to step onto that ambulance and provide that ALS level of care,” Jones said.

This has also opened the door for the City EMS system to be able to use the Emergency Medical Dispatch, or EMD.

The dispatch center has always had the technology, but they have never had to use it before.

EMD helps differentiate between an ALS or BLS incident so the right type of response is deployed for service.

Both organizations say the plan is working, but they still need more paramedics.

“Wherever that paramedic is coming from, whether it would be off an ambulance or off a fire engine, what they need to know is they are getting the highest level of pre-hospital care in our community,” Jones said.

Reporting by Margaret DeMarco for MTN news