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Michigan EMS providers sounding the alarm on lack of funding

Life EMS crew prepares ambulance in Kalamazoo (WWMT/Jason Heeres)
Life EMS crew prepares ambulance in Kalamazoo (WWMT/Jason Heeres)
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An SOS for EMS. Michigan emergency medical services leaders said they have an emergency of their own, and are asking the state for help.

Thursday, May 20, 2021, members of the Michigan Association of Ambulance Services testified before the Senate Health Policy and Human Services Committee about how EMS providers are struggling due to a lack of funds.

"I need to share that our state EMS system is near collapse," said Richmond/Lenox EMS chief Jeff White. "In order to effect some changes that we need now, we may not only need legislative support, but simply your influence and support in the state capital, as we work through departments and the state bureaucracy. Today, there are no more medics in the pipeline. There is almost no one left for our agencies to hire. As we sit in this hearing room today, EMS agencies throughout Michigan are unable to find enough paramedics to serve your communities.”

Ron Slagell, president and CEO of Emergent Health Partners, told lawmakers that funding is a major issue.

"Our EMS providers in the state get 10 to 25 percent of our cost from Medicaid," Slagell said. "Our average Medicaid reimbursement for a transport is $178. Michigan EMS agencies have not had had a true increase in the reimbursement rate since the year 2000."

Mark Meijer, president of Grand Rapid-based Life EMS, said the reimbursement is not enough.

"The Medicaid program will reimburse, I think it's $208 plus a small mileage charge," said Meijer. "So if you can imagine that's supposed to cover the cost of the response of at least one paramedic, an EMT and an ambulance that's equipped - with the ambulance cost and the equipment - is probably in the neighborhood of $200,000."

Meijer said the typical EMS provider only collects between 35 to 55 percent of what it charges. He said that, combined with the low Medicaid reimbursement, makes hiring new employees difficult.

"That doesn't give us any ability to increase wages and benefits. It just puts us, paints us into a corner," said Meijer.

Less applicants mean longer hours for existing employees.

“We’re overworked and we’re exhausted. It’s true, there’s no one to fill these shifts," said Denise Pope, a paramedic at Southwestern Michigan Community Ambulance Service. "It's completely normal for us to work 36, 48 hour shifts in a row. 72 hours is a normal shift."

Meijer said at the minimum, the Michigan Medicaid program should reimburse at the level of the federal Medicare program, to help EMS providers offer competitive pay.

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Life EMS was offering a $10,000 sign-on bonus for full-time paramedics to attract applicants.

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