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Program Prepares Emergency Responders Amid Shortage

From left, Samantha Reale, Mike Crouse Jr. and Hanny Qadri, conduct a realistic emergency medical situation. Also pictured is Brian Wilcox, the program director.

A program operated by UPMC in partnership with SUNY Jamestown Community College is looking to fill some of the gaps in emergency medical services coverage.

Since 2011, the Chautauqua Regional Paramedic Program has graduated more than 200 paramedics. In fact, the last three classes have been the largest the program has seen to date: 25 students each in 2019 and 2021; and 29 students in 2023, which includes January through April 2024.

“We have 12 students here in Jamestown, 12 in our Olean location and nine in our Allegheny branch,” said Brian Wilcox, paramedic program director at UPMC. “Nationwide, we’re seeing a shortage of emergency medical technicians, paramedics, nurses and law enforcement officers.”

Once certified, paramedics can perform more advanced procedures compared to emergency medical technicians and also offer advanced life support.

The local partnership seems to be well-received by a cohort of learners and which utilizes technology to join multiple classrooms.

Hanny Qadri, a local paramedic student, is pictured conducting CPR chest compressions on a dummy at the Jamestown Alstar training facility. Nationwide, there is a shortage of paramedics and emergency medical technicians. P-J photos by Christopher Blakeslee

“We stream our live lectures to our other locations, and we have staff at each site to conduct the live-action, test scenarios and to provide immediate, active-feedback on the spot,” Wilcox said. “We use state-of-the-art training equipment, and we train as we perform and perform as we train.”

UPMC’s agreement with SUNY JCC was signed a year ago; the partnership provides college credits for students who complete the paramedic program. To meet New York state requirements for certification, students must complete formalized training and pass an examination. The certification hours are broken down into several components with multiple subcomponents.

“The training is intense, but our instructors are knowledgeable and make learning fun,” Samantha Reale, a Frewsburg High School graduate and paramedic student, said during a recent class. “Many of us are EMTs and this is the next, natural progression in our advancement.”

According to Wilcox, a career in the emergency medical field can be a rewarding one, and for those interested in a career as a medical emergency technician or paramedic with each day requiring the responders to wear a different hat.

“Some of our students have gone on calls and have to be cardiologists, psychiatrists, care givers, tram experts, pediatric specialists and podiatrist,” he said. “Every day seems like the EMS worker is wearing a different hat or switching hats frequently. This is a rewarding field, and I encourage anyone to look into it if you have a heart for helping people.”

Wilcox said he plans on trying to get UPMC’s program certified with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs so military veterans can use their G.I. benefits to attend the course.

A letter penned to Congress on behalf of the American Ambulance Association highlighted the high turnover rates within the EMS career fields and the challenges in recruiting and retaining medical emergency technicians and paramedics.

“The most sweeping survey of its kind — involving nearly 20,000 employees working at 258 EMS organizations — found that overall turnover among paramedics and EMTs ranges from 20 to 30 percent annually,” the association said. “With percentages that high, ambulance services face 100% turnover over a four- year period. Staffing shortages compromise our ability to respond to healthcare emergencies, especially in rural and underserved parts of the country.

“Our nation’s EMS system is facing a crippling workforce shortage, a long-term problem that has been building for more than a decade. It threatens to undermine our emergency 911 infrastructure and deserves urgent attention by the Congress.”

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