RAA trying to solve worker shortage with higher pay while proposing new response system

Richmond

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — The Richmond Ambulance Authority is finally hiring more people than it’s losing for the first time since 2018, according to the agency’s spokesperson Mark Tenia.

In June, alarms were raised after a pregnant woman involved in a Richmond car wreck waited roughly an hour for an ambulance. RAA blamed the situation on staffing levels at only about 50 percent of what the agency needs to staff above the demand.

“It is concerning when you have staffing that is at that level,” Tenia said at the time.

After additional reports of long ambulance wait times this summer, RAA is making changes. The agency’s thought about some of the changes for a while.

“We’ve long said that we need to pay our employees more,” Tenia told 8News Wednesday.

Saving money on payroll created an opportunity for RAA.

“We’re taking those funds and we’ve raised the base pay for our EMTs and paramedics by about $4 [an hour],” he said.

EMTs with little to no experience previously started at $13 to $13.39 an hour. EMTs with two or more years of experience and or advanced certifications could start at $13.79 to $16.71 an hour. Paramedics started making between $17 and $19.14 an hour.

Now, EMTs with little to no experience start at $17 to 17.51 an hour. EMTs with two or more years of experience and or advance certifications can start at $18.40 to $19.14 an hour. Paramedics now start making between $21 to $23.64 an hour.

“We had to do something to ensure that we were going to provide quality patient care to the citizens of Richmond,” Tenia said.

He told 8News that so far this year, they’ve hired more people than have left — the first time that’s happened since 2018. The spokesperson said he thinks the pay raises are playing a big role.

“It has helped to make us more competitive in the job market as well as improve retention for our current employees,” Tenia said.

However, with the new hourly wages comes a caveat.

“We cannot be full staffed at this point because if we do get to a point where we’re full staffed, we’ll run out of money in the current fiscal year,” Tenia said. “We didn’t budget for the current wages we’re offering. We will be able to afford hiring more staff at the increased wages up until a certain point but I can’t say what that point is right now.”

He said RAA is still asking for more city funding and also proposing a new tiered response system, which he said is common in nearby localities like Chesterfield, Amelia, Colonial Heights and Henrico. RAA will propose the new system to the Richmond City Council in the coming weeks. Tenia said under the new response system, less serious calls would just get EMTs sent versus sending both EMTs and paramedics to each call.

“So that will free our paramedics for the more serious calls and should also improve response times,” Tenia said.

Though staffing levels are trending upwards, the spokesperson said some response times are still lagging right now. Tenia said they are still considered “close to 50 percent staffing.” He said the agency is still not where it needs to be but that RAA is optimistic.

“We’re headed in a direction that we’re positive about,” he said.

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