Randy Yohe Published

State EMS Director Addresses Hiring Challenges, Explains Future Goals

State Emergency Medical Director Jody Ratliff in WVPB studio.
Allison Adler

Major challenges remain across West Virginia in recruiting and retaining enough emergency medical service workers to keep ambulances running.

Randy Yohe spoke with state Emergency Medical Director Jody Ratliff on all that’s being done now – and planned for the future – to keep local EMT departments fully staffed.

Yohe: In June, I saw that West Virginia had lost more than 1900 EMTs over the past three years. At that time the workforce was short by nearly a third. Is that still the general case?

Ratliff: It is still the general case. It’s stressful for the EMS directors in the state right now and they’re trying to recruit as best as they can. Everybody’s looking for different ways to recruit people and get them into the EMS workforce.

Yohe: You told a recent legislative interim committee that the future of EMS across West Virginia is trending positively. So, what are the biggest challenges to EMT recruitment and retention? And, what are the key developments helping meet those challenges?

Ratliff: It takes a special kind of person to go into EMS. The directors out there have to target that person. Typically, we like to target them when they’re first coming out of high school and is that kid who’s who’s looking for something more in life, maybe he doesn’t want to go to college, maybe he does want to go to college, maybe she wants to do something different, whatever the case might be. It’s a very specific person who can do the job and stay in the job. So the challenges are first, finding that person and in today’s society, getting the right pay for that person, and then – the right benefits for that person.

Yohe:Talk about the streamlining regarding the online EMT certification website.

Ratliff: When the state went to (Healthcare & Emergency Response software company) ImageTrend, it developed into basically a self service. It allows the EMS folks out there to do what they want to do without having to call us all the time, without having to email us all the time and then wait for us to get around to it. It streamlines the whole process. They can go in and do it all. Within just a few hours they can have someone certified. It was a barrier at one time. It took anywhere from one to four weeks to get someone certified.

Yohe: You now have a command center and have updated education policies, talk about the benefits there.

Ratliff: Education drives everything for EMS. We’ve been stuck in the mud over the last probably 10 or 15 years with the same education. We know if we’re going to push EMS into the future and have it continue to be part of the healthcare system, then we have to educate our folks better. And, we’re going to do that. We can’t really do much with the initial education, that’s set by national standards. What we can do is update state education. We hope to help the EMS providers out there really become part of that system.

Yohe: I believe there’s a partnership with one if not more, universities, or colleges when it comes to leadership training.

Ratliff: It is, leadership training through the University of Charleston. They do a great job. I just went to their graduation and it warms my heart to see all those folks out there and how many people took the opportunity to go to that class. We also have partnerships with a lot of community colleges who teach the paramedic program.

Yohe: It seems that the state’s mid-level management leadership training happening across several state agencies has really started to pay off.

Ratliff: It has, and people love that. I’ve spoken to a few of our people that went out west and when they spoke to the EMS people there, they didn’t know that other state governor’s did that for them. It was great to hear that our governor stepped up and did that.

Yohe: Explain what the normalization of treat-in-place policies means and how it takes pressure off the state’s emergency rooms.

Ratliff: The treatment in place right now will affect three people, the diabetic, the seizure patient, or someone with COPD. It’s common that EMS will go out and run a diabetic patient and when they do this, the patient won’t be responding correctly. They’ll have low blood sugar, they’ll pass out, they’ll start an IV. When the patient comes back around, what we tend to find out is, maybe the patient took their insulin, missed their breakfast, something along those lines. As soon as we treat them, they come back around and don’t want to go to the hospital. We’re very specific on the patients that we’re targeting for that treatment-in-place. It allows us to treat-in-place and it keeps that patient out of the ER. The ER staff knows that all they (the patient) had to do was eat once they got EMT treatment. It clears us up, clears the ER staff up and clears the beds up in the ER and allows us to get back in service sooner.

Yohe: Some of the $10 million that was allocated by the governor to address these challenges went into the “Answer the Call” recruitment and retention campaign. How has that worked?

Ratliff: It takes time to go through the EMT process or paramedic process and get all the education. So we’re not going to see the true effects and true success until 2023. That’s when we’re really going to start to see how many people were able to get in. Some of the people that we lost during that process that maybe didn’t complete class, we’re not done with them. We still want to go back out and target those people and say, Hey, we want you to come back in, let’s try it again. We’re finding different ways to educate people. One of the things that I can say that is great about the directors right now across the state of West Virginia – is they’re working outside their box. They’re looking at everything they can possibly look at to say, how do we educate these people? Educating a 16-year-old kid and educating a 36-year-old person calls for two completely different ways to educate someone. We’re targeting both audiences and changing the way we educate, and it’s working.

Yohe: Is there anything else that you want to tell me about where EMS stands and where it’s going that I didn’t ask?

Ratliff: There’s still a lot of sleepless nights, people working to make sure they get their shifts covered. People trying to find more employees out there to come into EMS. We encourage anybody who’s ever thought about a career in EMS to come out and join us. We’re more than happy to train you, get you educated and create a future for you.