FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – The city’s main ambulance service has been facing a shortage of paramedics. The chief operating officer for Three Rivers Ambulance Authority’s operations division told WANE 15 the COVID-19 pandemic is to blame.
Concerns have been heard in recent months over TRAA’s ability to cover 911 calls across Fort Wayne. Mike Bureau, the C.O.O., said the pandemic has put a strain on staffing, but residents of the city should not worry about getting help when they need it.
“There will be an ambulance at your door, and it will likely be a TRAA ambulance and it will be there quickly,” Bureau said. “The people who come will take the best care of you. We have some of the most professional and highly skilled paramedics and EMTs that I have ever worked with.”
It’s not clear just how many paramedics and EMTs are on staff with TRAA. According to Bureau, at one point he saw an optimal staffing of 35 of each position. He said the service has been able to keep up with an optimal amount of EMT’s. He noted that at one point though, TRAA was at one dozen fewer paramedics that what is ideal.
Bureau told WANE 15 COVID-19 can be blamed for the increased difficulty hiring and keeping medics. It’s a trend he said has been seen across the country. Paramedics have responded to more intense calls, in-person training and education came to a stop, hindering the graduation of paramedics, paramedics have had to quarantine when dealing with a possible infection and some have had to take time off to help with their families.
“It’s been a very delicate balance of trying to support our staffing needs and at the same time, supporting the emotional, and mental stress, and the physical stress that it puts on these first responders during this pandemic, to begin with,” Bureau added.
TRAA has had to use the help of other ambulance services to respond to calls during busy times with short staff. The group has also helped other agencies cover calls outside of the city.
A spokesperson for the City of Fort Wayne confirmed the city’s fire chief has been “keeping a close eye” on the situation, despite the city not having a direct contract with the service. TRAA is held accountable though to a board of directors, which includes Chief Eric Lahey.
WANE 15 has reached out to another board member, asking what standards TRAA is expected to meet and what is being done if those expectations are not being met.
Bureau said that efforts have been happening to get more paramedics working. They include discussions of signing bonuses to attract new paramedics to the city and rewarding current employees with referral bonuses.