Why a not-so-new staffing shortage is delaying some ambulance response times in Richmond


RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — The Richmond Ambulance Authority says a staffing shortage is delaying some response times. The issue was brought to light after a pregnant woman said she waited an hour for an ambulance after a car wreck over the weekend.

City officials said fire and police responded to the scene in minutes. However Latonya Thornton said an ambulance took way too long to arrive.

The ambulance authority is responding to concerns about the wait time. “We’re hoping that that’s just an exception and not part of a pattern,” said Mark Tenia, with RAA.

Tenia blamed a shortage of ambulance workers. “It is concerning when you have staffing that is at that level,” he said Wednesday.

When the accident involving Thornton happened Saturday, Tenia said all eight staffed ambulances were out on other calls. According to him, at 2:30 p.m. on Saturday, June 12, two units were responding to Priority 1 calls. One unit was at the scene of a Priority 1 call. Three units were already in route to hospitals with patients and two were at hospitals delivering patients to the emergency department.

“In total, that is eight units which made up all of the staffed ambulances we had available to respond to emergency calls at that time,” Tenia said.

The spokesperson said lately, they have just about half of the workers needed in order to staff above the demand. “Within the past two and a half years, we’ve lost more employees than we’ve hired,” he told 8News.

For that, he blamed several factors, including the pandemic and fewer students wanting the career.
“So that’s also troubling, and we’ve had a problem with funding, “Tenia said. RAA is its own entity but gets funding from the city, which recently reduced the ambulance authority’s future budget by $1 million.

Tenia also said how much workers are paid is likely one reason folks are leaving. According to him, EMTs with little to no experience start at $13 an hour, equaling a starting salary ranging from $35,828 to $36,902. Some new paramedics start at $17 an hour, equaling a starting salary ranging from $46,852 to $52,750.

To recruit staff and keep them, Tenia said they’re looking to pay workers more per hour so they can work 42 instead of 48 hour weeks. “This is certainly something that we’ve been working on and hopefully can improve in the next year,” he said.

Thornton delivered a healthy baby this week. Thornton said she was 37 weeks along, due to give birth on July 4, but she was told Monday that her fluid was very low and she needed to deliver the baby. It’s not clear if the accident or wait time had any effect on the birth.

She said what happened to her should not happen again. Mayor Levar Stoney said his office is meeting with RAA about what happened. “The ambulance authority did not respond in a timely manner and that is problematic,” he said in a news conference on an unrelated topic Wednesday.

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