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Scholarships could be a tool to replenish shrinking paramedic pool

Emergency medical services are among things most people expect to be there when they need them. And, indeed, 90% of Minnesotans who called 911 in 2022 had someone on the scene in 16 minutes or less.

But the emergency medical services profession could be facing an emergency of its own.

Be they emergency medical technicians, responders or paramedics, those trained and certified in the profession are letting their licenses lapse, with only about a third the number of new providers entering the field. In 2022, 4,474 people let their certifications expire, while only 1,558 new certifications were issued.

That’s why Rep. Nathan Coulter (DFL-Bloomington) is sponsoring HF165, which would try to entice more people to enter the field with scholarships. With a one-time appropriation of $3.2 million in fiscal year 2024, the program would set a goal of providing up to 600 scholarships of $5,000 each by 2026.

On Thursday, the House Higher Education Finance and Policy Committee laid the bill over for possible omnibus bill inclusion.

“Every year, we lose 65 more paramedics than we’re able to replace,” said Dylan Ferguson, executive director of the Minnesota Emergency Medical Services Regulatory Board. “Most concerningly, 50% who let their certification expire are under the age of 40 years old. And a staggering 20% are under the age of 30. The inability to recruit new paramedics and retain younger paramedics leads to a workforce that increases in age each year. And nearly a quarter of our paramedics in this state are over the age of 50.”

Ferguson said the scholarship program is modeled on recently enacted state scholarship programs that have made an impact in bringing more people into the nursing profession.

“As written, this bill would deal with one of the greatest barriers to EMTs upgrading their skills and updating their certification: cost,” he said. “With over 1,000 hours of material and activity to cover, the costs of education have increased. It’s also important to note that EMTs — which is where our paramedics come from — are also one of the lowest paid, when they’re paid at all, when it comes to health professionals.”

“We have a crisis here, in EMS and EMTs,” said Rep. Greg Davids (R-Preston). “It’s very, very severe. This is one thing we can do to help, but there are other things needed, too. This doesn’t solve everything, but I think this really helps.”

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