Program aims to increase Osceola County paramedics

REED CITY — A shortage of paramedics throughout Michigan is being felt by Osceola County EMS Director Jeremy Beebe.

As the State of Michigan requires accreditation for who can provide paramedic classes, as well as an effort to meet national testing standards, it leaves Beebe and his fellow directors around the region trying to find ways to provide opportunities to those in his department to become paramedics.

Paramedics are the highest level inside emergency medical services. The state’s new education requirements for paramedics do not apply to EMTs or medical first responders.

“Michigan is behind the times to go to the national standards,” the EMS director told County Commissioners during their Committee of the Whole meeting on July 18. “The other states already use national accreditation that Michigan never went to. The growing pains we’re feeling now other states felt five to 10 years ago.”

During the meeting, Beebe explained a plan to provide a tuition program for up to four people in Osceola County to take a paramedic class closer to home.

Working with other EMS directors from around the area, as well as grant funds from the West Michigan Regional Medical Consortium, Beebe said they are able to provide a local paramedic class sponsored by Life EMS at a cost of $3,500 per student.

“Right now, you have to be affiliated with a college or hospital to hold a paramedic class,” he said. “There are programs getting out of the business because it’s getting too expensive to teach and others are closing down.”

Beebe told commissioners Life EMS in Grand Rapids and Great Lakes EMS Academy are the closest options for those wanting to become paramedics.

“If you go and take a Life EMS paramedic course, it’s going to cost you $10,000,” he said. “Since meeting in the spring, myself and these other agency directors wanted to find a way to fix the shortage; we see paramedics going from Employer A to Employer B, a lot of them are getting out of EMS and getting into nursing and others are retiring. We’re all short employees.

“A couple counties are shutting off ambulances because they don’t have the paramedics. They have the funding, the ambulances, the equipment, but they don’t have the paramedics.”

By collaborating with equipment, facilities and instructors, and the class being taught closer to home, Beebe said the agencies together can provide a potential paramedic an affordable opportunity locally with an organization with a higher-than-average success rate.

“Right now, the national standard success rate is 38 percent on the paramedic test,” he said. “The state is not teaching to the standards of the test paramedics are taking. The success rate of a Life EMS paramedic course is 80 percent.

“The tuition program would provide them with the best option we have found, and it’s going to be our own paramedic class,” he said.

Working similar to a program Life EMS uses, the cost of the course, $3,500, would be provided for the paramedic course, and the employee would be responsible for paying the cost back to the department.

“We understand it’s hard to come up with $3,500,” he said.

If something should happen and the course is not completed successfully or the paramedic leaves, they would be required to pay back the money.

Commissioner Pam Wayne asked how that would work.

“There are ways to get the money out of their last paycheck,” he said. “But there’s a collection process or we can garnish wages.”

Beebe said the program’s language establishes the employee’s responsibility to pay the money back. If it becomes an issue, the employee also is responsible for attorney and court fees.

County Commissioners approved allowing up to four from Osceola County to use the tuition program for the paramedic course.