State Paramedic Shortage Becomes Critical

In Harrison and Hancock counties alone, it is normal for American Medical Response paramedics to respond to nearly 100 calls a day.

But what is not normal is the dwindling number of paramedics responsible for providing life-saving care when seconds count.

However, AMR officials believe if the number of training hours are reduced, the much needed help will come.

"In the past, the local junior colleges here in South Mississippi, it has been a three semester program . The three semester program that was in place worked well before the curriculum was changed to be a four semester or two-year program," said AMR operations director Chris Cirillo.

And that extra schooling doesn't necessarily mean better service.

"There is no evidence to support that a paramedic will be more competent to treat patients after completing 1700 hours of training as opposed to the 1200 hours that AMR and other ambulance providers are recommending the department of health and the department of education implement here in the state," said Cirillo.

Something must be done because according to statistics, it would take about 200 paramedics going though school in Mississippi per year for the schools to meet the staffing requirements of the ambulance providers.

Since 2000, there has been a 35% reduction of advanced level ambulance services in the state.

Over the last year, there has been a 19% reduction in the number of certified paramedics in Mississippi.

In 2002, only one paramedic student took the paramedic certification test in Mississippi.

Officials believe there is little incentive for a student to attend paramedic school for three years when the person can become a registered nurse in 2 years at a much higher salary.

"We hope that this change in curriculum require will allow ambulance services in the state to recruit paramedics from within the state. Right now we're having to go outside of the state," said Cirillo.

In 2002 and 2003 combined, only 34 paramedics graduated from MS training programs.

The state's ambulance services will continue to request course-load changes from the departments of health and education.