‘Great resignation,’ pandemic impacting private ambulance companies in Miami Valley

MIAMI VALLEY — Private ambulance companies are among a growing list of industries struggling as a result of the “Great Resignation” and the COVID-19 pandemic.

On Friday Integrity Ambulance closed its doors after decades in business. Now that leaves Spirit Medical Transport as the only private ambulance company over a large portion of western Ohio.

Low pay, long shifts and an increased workload all contribute to why companies are struggling.

“Right now we have 96 facilities on a waiting list for western Ohio that have contacted us over the last 2 years and said we would like to enter a contract with you,” Brian Hathaway, President and CEO of Spirit Medical Transport, said. “But we simply don’t have the people to do it.”

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It’s a problem in places like Darke County and beyond that’s only going to get worse with Integrity closing its doors.

Another major issue is that Ohio is in the bottom 15 percent of states when it comes to Medicaid reimbursement rates per ambulance.

“At the mercy of the state and federal government and their reimbursement rates,” Hathaway said. “Our Medicare rates are 6 percent below our cost on a national average. Medicaid in Ohio is far below that. It’s certainly hard and that kind of thing hard to squeeze blood out of turnip but that’s what we’ve been asked to do.”

One problem for people in rural parts of the Miami Valley and the state are if you need to go to specific facilities for trauma care or something else along those lines you could be facing a longer wait.

Unlike municipal departments, private ambulance companies don’t have borders and similar restrictions.

“Here in rural America we don’t have trauma centers, we don’t have cathlabs, we don’t have specialty doctors on every corner,” Hathaway said.

“So when you go to that freestanding ER or you go to that hospital in a rural setting, now that patient needs to get to the more advanced level of care. The private EMS is the ones who are making that happen, who are moving these patients that need to go to that hospital, who are moving those patients that are on dialysis and need those life sustaining treatments.”

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Almost one third of the industry has left according to the Ohio Ambulance and Medical Transportation Association.

Because of that the Department of Public Safety is allowing for ambulances to operate below minimum staffing.

Only 19 of 770 medical transportation companies have taken advantage of that. Spirit is one of them. Despite that the company still has brand new ambulances that are sitting idle in their garages because they don’t have enough crews to operate them.

“What we use to be able to do 5, 6, 7, 8 years ago where it was going to take us 45 minutes to an hour to get that facility sometimes now it’s taking 6, 8, 12, 24, 36 hours for patients to get moved and we have to prioritize those,” Hathaway said.

Spirit has done a lot to try and encourage people to be trained and become EMTs. They offer scholarships, last year gave away a car to one of the people that finished a class. The company, like many others is trying to do what it can to increase its staffing. Another part is increasing the reimbursement to help the company’s bottom line.

James Rider

James Rider

I was born in Virginia and have moved several times in my life as a member of an Air Force family. I've lived in Virginia, California, Germany, England, and Ohio. I graduated from Centerville High School and then went on to attend Ball State University where I graduated with a bachelor's degree.

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