11 Investigates: Pittsburgh EMS unit pulled out of service due to staffing shortage

PITTSBURGH — 11 Investigates has learned that a continued staffing shortage in the Bureau of Emergency Medical Services has forced the temporary shutdown of one medic unit for the entire month of June.

Channel 11 Chief Investigator Rick Earle first reported on the EMS staffing concerns last October.

Earle reported last year that some units had to be temporarily taken out of service because the bureau just didn’t have enough medics. He discovered that the bureau is still dealing with these issues.

This time the medic unit in Homewood was temporarily out of service.

The Emergency Medical Services station in Homewood houses Medic 1 and Medic 11.

However, because of staffing shortages, Medic 11 has been taken out of service for the entire month of June, leaving Medic 1 to cover a larger area.

“It’s a concern. Yes, it’s a public safety concern,” said Pittsburgh City Councilmember Anthony Coghill, who oversees public safety.

Medic 1 which covers the north end of Homewood, Lincoln-Lemington, Highland Park, Waterworks and part of East Liberty is now also responsible for covering Medic 11′s area, which includes the southern end of Homewood, East Hills, Point Breeze, Regent Squirrel Hill North and parts of Shadyside and East Liberty.

“EMS, like our police you know, short staffing, hard time recruiting people, hard time getting them to stay here in the city, so we’re taking a long look at that, and we hope to come up with a solution where we can be fully staffed and not take an ambulance out of commission,” Coghill told Earle.

A Public Safety spokesperson said the unit was taken out of service this month to relieve some of the staffing challenges, as well as reduce the forced overtime of paramedics.

The spokesperson added that an EMT unit was placed in service to assist with overflow.

Paramedics are allowed to provide a higher level of care and services than the Emergency Medical Technicians.

11 investigates broke the story about the EMS staffing issues last October when Earle spoke with the Paramedic Union President.

Earle: Have you missed any calls because of this?

Jonathan Atkinson, Union President: We’ve had to put units out of service and that’s the last thing that nobody wants to see.

Earle also spoke with EMS Chief Amera Gilchrist.

“I don’t think the picture is as bleak as they paint it. I do think there are some things that need to happen for us to always maintain the standard of care that Pittsburgh EMS is known for,” said Gilchrist.

One of those things was a free EMT Training Academy.

Gilchrist launched that program earlier this year.

Nine trainees are enrolled in the program.

That will ultimately reduce the current EMT openings to four, but the city is still looking for 29 paramedics.

The hope is that some of those EMTs will go on to become paramedics.

The union contends eliminating the residency requirement, like police and fire, would make a big difference.

“There are 3,561 people who have an EMS certification who live in Allegheny County, so we are talking about our own backyard,” said Atkinson.

Coghill, who said he will look into the residency requirement, knows something needs to be done and soon.

“I’ll meet with (Public Safety) Director (Lee) Schmidt and come up with some ideas to get them fully staffed and make sure their vehicles are running in good shape and make sure they have the right personnel,” said Coghill.

Earle reached out to the Union about this decision to take a medic unit off the street this month, and they declined to comment.

The Union has been without a contract for six months, but sources told Earle they are close to reaching an agreement.

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