Spectrum News: Why the state might see less emergency medical services workers

By Zarina Khairzada

For the last decade, Caitlynn Humphrey has been working long hours, missing holidays and birthdays, to respond to emergency calls.

GARDENA, Calif. — For the last decade, Caitlynn Humphrey has been working long hours, missing holidays and birthdays, to respond to emergency calls.

As an emergency medical technician, she’s grateful to be there in someone’s time of need. However, the pandemic made her take a closer look at the sacrifices she’s willing to make for her career.

What You Need To Know

The California Ambulance Association said Medi-Cal ambulance transport reimbursement rate of $111 is leading to low wages in the state

California is the fourth lowest paying state, according to CAA

According to the BLS, EMTs make about $17 per hour or about $36,000 per year

About 21,000 job openings are expected in this industry as people leave for other occupations or retire, according to BLS

“It was frightening. There was a lot of unknowns and there was a lot of, like, asking yourself if you are willing to risk your life for minimum wage work,” Humphrey said.

The median pay for an EMT is about $17 per hour or about $36,000 per year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

It’s estimated that there will be about 21,000 job openings nationally each year from people leaving the industry or retiring. Eventually, Humphrey might switch careers too.

“I took this supervisor position to get a raise to pay for nursing school,” she said.

James Pierson, president of the California Ambulance Association, said one third of the state depends on Medi-Cal, the state’s low-income health care system.

Each time a Medi-Cal patient needs an ambulance transport, Pierson said providers lose money due to low reimbursement rates.

Currently, ambulance providers in the state are being paid about $111 per transport. This rate forces the industry to shift the cost to other payers and leads to low wages, Pierson said.

“If we keep neglecting the pay that we need from the state and the state keeps enrolling Medicaid patients, you are going to see less and less ambulance providers and ambulance workers in the system. We need a reset,” Pierson said.

Gov. Gavin Newsom’s proposed state budget includes changes for Medi-Cal, which health care lawyer Harry Nelson, the founder and managing partner of Nelson Hardiman LLP, said could bring some relief, if it takes effect.

“It will be a substantial increase and part of what he is trying to do is essentially to move Medi-Cal in California closer to commercial insurance rates and to Medicare rates in order to create better health care,” Nelson said.

While changes could be on the horizon — it won’t be soon enough for Humphrey.

“I would love to stay in EMS. I love being outdoors. I love being in the emergency setting,” she said. “But, unfortunately, the wages are just not conducive for a lifestyle.”