AUSTIN (KXAN) - Austin/Travis County Emergency Medical Services leaders hope the Austin City Council will consider a proposal to require just one certified paramedic onboard each of their responding units, instead of the two that are now required.
The proposal would allow the second medical responder to just be EMT-Basic certified, meaning they would have about one-tenth the training of a certified paramedic.
"It seems a little bit counter-intuitive when you're staffing with one less paramedic. It seems like a reduction.
But, it's not." said Ernesto Rodriguez, Chief for Austin/Travis County EMS. "And one of the things we've learned with paramedics, is more is not better. And in fact, having a division of labor so to speak, so that your paramedics focus on the most critical patients, and then your basic providers focus on those patients that don't need those critical interventions. So, it's better in the long run."
Currently, the two paramedics that are in each truck rotate their skills on each patient they serve. EMS explained that by having just one highly skilled paramedic, they would be performing more life-saving techniques and therefore gaining more critical skills.
As Medical Director Paul Hinchey tried to explain, "If you go get a surgery, you want to have a surgeon who does say a gall bladder surgery say 10 times a week rather than 10 times a year. The more you do a procedure, the better you are at it. The lower the complication rate."
The City of Austin explored those changes a few years ago, and admitted it could probably save money in the long run. This time, EMS says that cost-cutting is not the approach, and tell us the savings would be minimal at best.
The change would also not affect any current jobs.
"This is going to be done through natural attrition. We're comfortable taking three to five years to make
this change happen in order to preserve as many paramedics as we can," Rodriguez said.
There are currently 48 paramedic vacancies, and EMS officials admit they're having trouble finding those with the right set of skills.
"There is a shortage of paramedics nationwide," Rodriguez said. "We've had three hiring processes and only have been able to recruit three paramedics in three entire process. It's getting very difficult right now."
With the newest proposal, the organization hopes it will open up a larger pool of candidates.
"We want compassionate, critical-thinking, good character to come into our organization regardless of their certification. So we want to be able to pick the very best across all the certification levels, because that builds the future of our organization," Hinchey said.
The Austin City Council may vote on the proposal the middle of February. If it passes, changes could begin to happen by March or April of this year.
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