CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The state of West Virginia is faced with a growing shortage of EMT’s and paramedics. The situation prompted Governor Jim Justice to recently dedicate some of the state’s pandemic relief funding toward enhanced training for current EMS personnel.
Officials said they know there is a growing shortage of first responders in West Virginia, but just how serious the problem is remains unclear. Cynthia Persily is Vice Chancellor for Health Sciences at the Community and Technical College System of West Virginia.
“We do have an EMS shortage, but one of the things we’re studying is just how bad that shortage is. We know we have a lot of jobs available and particular pockets of the state where they don’t have enough people to work, they’ve actually closed down on their ambulance capacity,” she said.
However, the exact shortage number for EMT’s in the state is not yet known. Persily said they are working to find that number.
The program is called “Answer The Call”. While recruiting more EMT’s the state is also trying to enhance the skill sets of those already on the job.
“We have now funded free EMT training for about 1100 slots across the state this summer and fall, but also looking at how to increase skills of those already in the workforce,” Persily said.
The state has created a mental health first aid class to enable first responders to better deal with mental issues which they might encounter among patients. The University of Charleston has launched an EMS leadership training program in which 300 EMS leaders from across the state are enrolled and working on strengthening leadership skills.
The cause of the shortage is another concern for Persily and the state. Burnout is one issue, but she said it’s not the only reason. All industries are experiencing difficulty recruiting and retraining to the workforce. Persily believed there was a perception problem as well. She suggested many may not be aware of the potential for advancement in the EMT career tracks. Plus, there are the rigors unique to the job itself which can make it a tough sell.
“It’s a hard job. They’re seeing very serious life and death situations every day,” she said.
Ultimately, it is a matter of life and death.
“That’s why the Governor felt we should invest these funds now and look at some short term fixes, but also some long term initiatives that will help us get more workers into the EMS workforce,” she said.
Those interested in the opportunities can learn more at emswv.com