Michael Siburt, left, and Paul McKeever are Southfield Fire Department firefighter EMTs. Both the paramedics and nursing fields have been experiencing a shortage of employees.

Michael Siburt, left, and Paul McKeever are Southfield Fire Department firefighter EMTs. Both the paramedics and nursing fields have been experiencing a shortage of employees.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

Nursing and paramedic shortages reported in Michigan

By: Mark Vest | Metro | Published August 25, 2021


METRO DETROIT — The labor shortages that have been occurring across the state have also affected two industries that have a direct impact on the health of residents.

There is currently a shortage of both nurses and paramedics/firefighters.

As easy as it may be to blame COVID-19 for the shortages, it is a problem that pre-dates the pandemic.

“We actually have been going through a nursing shortage over the last several years, and COVID has just exacerbated the issue, not only from a retirement perspective, but we’ve got nurses that are getting out of the work altogether,” said Beaumont Health System Senior Vice President and Chief Human Resources Officer Aaron Gillingham. “We also have nurses leaving to go to other agencies, where they’re moving into traveler positions and working in other opportunities across the country, as well.”

Gillingham expanded on what he thinks is a primary cause for the “huge nursing shortage.”

“We’ve got a good number of nurses taking on agency jobs,” he said. “Those jobs are working directly with agencies that place nurses in temporary-type arrangements across the country. … There’s an opportunity for nurses to make additional money by working with these agencies if they’re willing to travel. So that’s one huge contributing factor right now.”

Judy Didion, who is the dean of the school of nursing at Oakland University, shared a similar perspective.

“There’s more and more community-based agencies kind (of) emerging — home care, hospice, outpatient clinics and surgeries,” she said. “Nurses are in more than just the hospital now. I think the demand is higher, and what we’re seeing as a result (is) the need is greater and it’s harder for health systems to fill all their positions.”

According to the University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences website, the current nursing shortage is “greater than ever before in this country.”

There are eight Beaumont Hospitals in southeast Michigan, and Gillingham said there are 1,100 nursing jobs open across the system.

Gillingham understands that Beaumont is not alone in its search for nurses.

“There’s a tremendous amount of competition between the other hospital systems,” he said. “There’s just a huge need for more nurses, and so we’re having to rely on other positions to be able to supplement the work.”

Like in other cities, the Southfield Fire Department employs individuals who are both firefighters and paramedics.

Southfield Fire Department Chief Johnny Menifee said the current staffing level is at 95, with the department budgeted for 101.

Not having a full staff is nothing new for him.

“We’ve been experiencing this over the last six, seven years,” Menifee said. “These firefighters are older, and they’re retiring.”

Menifee added that it has been “really challenging for hiring.”

David Ceci is the dean of public services and the director of law enforcement training for Oakland Community College.

He said there is a “huge demand” for EMTs and paramedics, and he shared his opinion about what could be one of the reasons for it.

“These people do a lot, the EMTs and paramedics, and they don’t get paid, probably, what they really should,” Ceci said. “I think that hurts, but I do think, more recently, COVID hasn’t helped.”

According to Indeed.com, the average salary for a paramedic is $19.84 per hour in Michigan, and it’s $27.96 per hour for nurses.

Angela Madden is the executive director of the Michigan Association of Ambulance Services.

“We are retiring more paramedics than we are training right now,” Madden said.

Like Ceci, Madden thinks pay is one of the reasons for the shortages.

She also said that “practitioners are tired.”

“It is at a critical level,” Madden said. “Throughout, I would say, probably, the last decade or so, the situation has become worse. … We are at a point now where asking our practitioners to work more overtime than what they already are or pull additional shifts than what they already are — instead of 12, we might be asking them to work 24 — just to keep all the trucks on the road is wearing out our staff, and that’s unsustainable for our industry.”

Based on a recent Michigan Association of Ambulance Services survey, Madden said, “We believe there is approximately 1,000 open EMT and paramedic positions statewide right now.”    

Staffing shortages aren’t necessarily unique to Michigan.

“I’m hearing that the recruiting is hard all the way around, across the United States,” Menifee said. “It goes in waves, I think, where sometimes some jobs are very popular, then they’re not.”

Gillingham discussed strategies that have been employed to increase Beaumont’s nursing workforce.

“We’ve got a pretty effective recruitment program going on right now,” he said. ”We’ve increased the number of our job fairs. We have done an external recruitment campaign that included large billboards that are on a couple of major freeways locally. … We’ve also done other things, in terms of working with local schools and universities, to be able to market the openings that we have to students.”

The Southfield Fire Department has also been proactively attempting to increase its staffing level.

“We’re actively recruiting,” Menifee said. “We have an open posting for firefighter base EMTs or paramedics that we will send to fire school.”

Despite Beaumont’s recruiting efforts, Gillingham isn’t expecting a quick fix.

“I wish I could say there’s a silver bullet, but there’s not,” he said. “We are still working through the traditional types of recruiting efforts that we’ve been doing across the organization. We’ve also been going out to former employees, as well, and remarketing to them about having them come back to the organization.”

Gillingham isn’t expecting any one thing to “fix the situation.”

From Menifee’s perspective, the profession he has chosen is a “calling.”

“We have to do a better job of promoting fire service to individuals, that this is a very rewarding career and you can make a really good living as a firefighter-paramedic,” he said. “It is sad at times that you meet people on their worst day, but having the opportunity to change that outcome and help them, it’s a very rewarding thing. … When you help someone, you feel good, and this is a job that allows you to do that on a day-in, day-out basis.”

Despite employee shortages in recent years, Menifee reiterated that “it goes in waves,” and a positive one could be on the way.

“I noticed that all the academies that I look at now are full,” he said. “I think we’re starting to replenish the pool of firefighters that are retiring. … It’s been challenging, but I think things are getting better on recruitment and retention.”

Ceci discussed how things have been going at OCC.

“Our numbers have been pretty good,” he said. “We’ve had an increase in our numbers, steadily, over the last couple of years. I’d say ’19 to now, we’re pretty steady. … It has been nothing but going up.”

Didion also shared positive news about how enrollment numbers have been going for Oakland’s nursing program.

“Surprisingly, they’ve been excellent,” she said. “I was afraid after COVID that we would lose nurses in the community, in terms of individuals in the community wanting to become a nurse, but we are still meeting our admissions, and we haven’t had a dip in enrollment at all.”