AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin Travis County Emergency Medical Services is missing 151 people.

That’s according to the chief, Robert Luckritz, who addressed city council members this week during budget discussions.

The union said it’s part of what’s led to long waits for ambulances at times.

ATCEMS Association president Selena Xie, said another major contributing factor is low pay.

The association reached a tentative, one-year contract agreement with the city on Friday evening, which includes:

  • Starting pay for EMTs (the entry level position) to increase by 12.5%, to $22/hour. 
  • Starting pay for paramedics (which rank higher than EMTs) to increase by 11.2%, to $30.03/ hour. 
  • A pay increase for all current employees ranging from 4% to 11.2%, depending on position and time on the team. 

Before being finalized, the city said the agreement goes back to labor union members for approval, then city council, which Xie expects to happen on Sept. 1.

Negotiations have been ongoing for months and have gotten contentious at times, with one employee even quitting.

Xie, Luckritz, and Mayor Pro Tem Alison Alter said some items in the city’s recently passed budget may help with staffing.

“Our EMS professionals, sworn and unsworn, are working really hard, and we need to find ways to pay them more. But that depends on having the revenue to be able to do it,” Alter said.

One amendment she proposed improves the billing and health records system for ATCEMS. Currently, she said there’s a backlog in bills of 19,000 cases that could free up five to $25 million.

“It’s a significant amount of money that Austin has been leaving on the table because our billing system is not functioning at the level that it that it needs to be,” Alter said.

She said the goal is for all that money to stay in the EMS department.

“The goal is for the billing revenue to help us to provide incentives for recruitment and retention,” Alter said.

Luckritz said that could come in the form of something like bonuses for employees within the next fiscal year.

“Our hope is that we can evaluate this with the city manager’s office and identify what’s the best package that we can put together,” he said.

Alison also co-sponsored an amendment to fund EMS simulation training, which she and Luckritz believe will speed up the hiring, training and promotion of medics.

Right now, Luckritz explained, trainees have to wait for real-life scenarios to happen to learn how to respond to certain emergencies.

“By using these high fidelity simulators that can breathe, they can talk, they have blood pressures, and putting them in an immersive environment where they feel like they’re on a scene, we can simulate that for them and get them cleared faster than we otherwise would,” he said.

He said that’ll help get more people into both entry-level and higher level positions, and help move the department closer to being fully staffed.

Xie spoke in favor of the amendments during budget discussions on Wednesday.

“I thank you for the amendments and riders you have brought forward to help us chip away at this
problem,” she said.

Other EMS budget benefits

Alter co-sponsored an amendment with city council member Mackenzie Kelly to put $1.2 million into expanding a pilot program that equips medics with whole blood in the event they need to do a blood transfusion before a patient gets to the hospital.

“We’re currently doing that I think on two units. This expands it to be another eight. And that allows us to save lives, particularly in trauma situations,” Alter said.

The budget also includes $17.8 million in capital funding to finish construction of the Goodnight Ranch Fire/EMS station in southeast Austin.

“And then we also are going to be opening the loop 360 Fire EMS station in my district this year,” Alter said. “And the design of the Canyon Creek Fire EMS station, which will serve my district as well.”