EMS shortage challenging rural areas nationwide, including Bexar County

There’s a need for EMTs, paramedics and van drivers across the country.

SAN ANTONIO – They are there when we need them most; heart attacks, car crashes, and COVID patients needing to go to the hospital—EMS professionals.

Unfortunately, like many other careers, they’re feeling the impact of the pandemic.

The Acadian Ambulances are packed full and ready for any emergency that might come up.

“People are at their very worst when they’re calling 911 and they’re seeing us come out,” Karra Cross, an EMT Basic with Acadian Ambulance said. She’s been with them for three years now.

For the past decade, Acadian Ambulance Service has had the 911 contract for most of Bexar County.

Though, it’s getting harder to do that job.

“We’ve seen a lot of people leave the industry, which is unfortunate, and I can understand why they would want to leave,” Cross said. “People are worried about getting sick, they’re worried about their family.”

Looking at Texas specifically, in 2019 there were about 31,418 EMS professionals that worked on ambulances or about 46% of certified medics.

In 2021 year to date, only 20,776 certified people, or 27.43% of certified medics worked on ambulances.

“There’s a national shortage of EMS professionals, EMTs and paramedics,” Butch Oberhoff, director of governmental affairs at Acadian Ambulance Service said. He explained they’re also in need of van drivers.

In the metropolitan area of San Antonio, SAFD isn’t feeling the effects of the nationwide shortage, but in rural Bexar County, that’s a different story.

“We have never seen such a demand for EMS professionals,” Oberhoff said. “And we have never seen a shortage like this.”

San Antonio Fire Department is able to avoid the shortage by training all of their firefighters to a minimum of an EMT-B level.

When retirements happen, those slots are filled with a new cadet class. It’s harder to fill slots in rural areas.

“We’ve been working with the Legislature to find some new programs to to increase EMS education in rural areas. We’re looking at distance learning programs,” Oberhoff explained.

Acadian Ambulance Services is starting to pay people to go to EMT and paramedic schools. Already certified paramedics are eligible for a $10,000 sign-on bonus in our area.

They’re getting creative to solve the problem.

“We’re trying to avoid a situation where someone dials 911 and there’s no one to send,” Oberhoff.

Right now, there is no impact to service. EMS workers are working longer hours to prevent that from happening.

The Texas Legislature is trying to help with the EMS shortage.

Last month in a special session, senate bill 8 allocated $21.7 million to emergency medical services.

That money is going towards incentivizing, funding education programs, and prioritizing the rural and underserved areas.

About the Authors

Leigh Waldman is an investigative reporter at KSAT 12. She joined the station in 2021. Leigh comes to San Antonio from the Midwest after spending time at a station in Omaha, NE. After two winters there, she knew it was time to come home to Texas. When Leigh is not at work, she enjoys eating, playing with her dogs and spending time with family.

Gavin Nesbitt is a photojournalist and video editor who joined KSAT in September 2021. He has traveled across the great state of Texas to film, conduct interviews and edit many major news stories, including the White Settlement church shooting, Hurricane Hanna, 2020 presidential campaigns, Texas border coverage and the Spurs.

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