Prospective EMTs can ‘earn while you learn’

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) — For months, we’ve been reporting on crippling staffing shortages across our entire health care system, now one of the area’s biggest ambulance companies is trying to lure in people willing to become EMTs.

Sheilany Vega graduated from high school in June, turned 18 in September, and starts her career as an EMT Thursday. She was part of the first Earn While You Learn program offered by American Medical Response.

"I was working at the time and I couldn’t go to school and work, it would have to be one or the other so it was nice being able to do both and doing what I want to do and get paid for it," Vega said.

It’s not an easy job, physically or emotionally.

"It’s challenging. I’m not gonna lie. It’s really hard, but it’s worth it," Vega said.

Romaine Palmer feels the same way. He immigrated here from Jamaica a few years ago and decided, during the pandemic that he wanted to do more to help the community he now calls home.

"Yes, it was a worry, but I have to be selfless at this point because it is not just for the community but for the nation as a greater whole," Palmer said.

Thursday’s graduating class will be put right to work, and as we’ve been reporting for months, they are desperately needed.

"It’s an excellent opportunity to open the doorway which has historically not been super easy to find," according to Timothy Frost, AMR’s Regional Director.

There were no strings attached to this program, no requirement that these students stay with AMR.

"Our position is that we need to make you want to stay," Frost said.

Jennifer Lewke: "In addition to paying for their training then you’ve got to keep them by giving them a wage that is appealing?"

Frost: "Sure and the wage conversation is complicated."

Frost said much of it is tied to federal reimbursement rates for Medicaid and Medicare, which haven’t drastically increased in decades. But he feels a shift in the right direction.

"We did come to a new agreement with the SEIU on a new collective bargaining agreement which gave substantial wage increases and benefits and will continue to work together to hopefully keep forging the path," Frost said.

Thursday’s class of 13 doesn’t solve a severe staffing shortage but it at least may move the needle a bit.

Most local EMS agencies are offering similar paid-training programs and paid continuing education programs for EMTs who want to be paramedics.

The issue of course is finding people who want to do it.

Below are the links for programs some of our local ambulance companies are offering:

American Medical Response

Monroe Ambulance

CHS Mobile Health