AUSTIN (KXAN) — The city of Austin’s update on its plan to increase safety in the downtown Entertainment District includes planning to create a dedicated EMS presence with a staging area for paramedics on Sixth Street.
It’s a plan Austin EMS Association President Selena Xie championed, however, she worries Austin-Travis County EMS may not have the resources to create that staging area any time soon.
Xie says ATCEMS is close to filling all of its entry-level EMT positions but struggles to retain staff in promoted paramedic positions due to the pay they’re offered. Council Member Kathie Tovo says higher pay is something council has been discussing with 311 operators and a conversation she’d also be willing to have regarding paramedics.
“From our 311 Call Center to, you know, EMS, to the recruiting efforts in the police department, we are seeing certainly shortages in all of those areas, and we need to really think carefully as a community and as a city about what we can do to make sure that the employees who are in those positions are supported and understand that we regard them and respect how valuable their work is and their service to the community,” Tovo said. “And that may lead to discussions about about salaries.”
Meanwhile, ATCEMS says it will do the best it can with the staffing it has once the equipment needed for the Sixth Street staging area is in.
It’s something public safety advocates agree is needed following the June mass shooting on Sixth Street.
“The officers, you know, patched him up as best they could on scene, and then they got him in the police car and got him over to the hospital as fast as they could,” Doug’s brother, Nick Kantor, recalled.
Unfortunately, Doug lost his life. Kantor doesn’t feel, in his brother’s case, having EMS get to him more quickly would have helped. He wants to see more done to prevent crime in the busy Entertainment District.
“It’s the senselessness of it that kills you,” Kantor said. “I think it’s great that they’re doing what they’re doing with the EMS, but the problem is that that’s kind of a reactive solution. You need to stop people from getting hurt and shot and stabbed, instead of tend to their wounds, because realistically, we’re not accomplishing anything if we have to have EMS on every corner, because somebody is going to get shot.”
Still, Xie says it’s important and adds paramedics would also be on standby to help other people having medical issues on Sixth Street, like dehydration.
And in instances of shootings or other emergencies, Xie says, “There are a lot of times where these people will not even make it to the hospital five minutes away, if not for very, very vital intervention.”
Xie explains, “This is something that our department does during South by Southwest. During South by Southwest, we do have an area where we have patients and victims collect, and then we have ambulances waiting on the other side to take anybody who actually needs to go to the hospital.
She says paramedics lining Sixth Street use golf carts with the same equipment ambulances have in order to get to patients quicker.
Austin-Travis County EMS says it’s in the process of buying dedicated carts and equipment for downtown using funding provided in this year’s fiscal budget and expects it’ll be ready to deploy by the spring.
In the meantime, the city put together a dedicated street team following June’s mass shooting comprised of extra officers, firefighters and two additional paramedics in the area on Friday and Saturday nights.