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Opinion: Falck Is Committed to San Diego and Improved Emergency Response

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Falck ambulance
A Falck ambulance in San Diego. Courtesy OnScene.TV

Falck Mobile Health is proud to serve the people of San Diego as the city’s emergency ambulance provider and, despite persistent and challenging circumstances caused by the ongoing impact of the global pandemic, we remain more committed than ever to better serving the community.

The last several years have brought unprecedented challenges for the entire health care sector, but Falck has still made positive progress toward providing better emergency services for the people of San Diego since taking over this responsibility at the end of a competitive selection process in November 2021.

Working alongside the brave men and women of San Diego Fire-Rescue to keep the city’s residents and visitors safe, we have put more ambulances on the street, reaching unit hours of ambulance coverage higher than ever before in the city’s history.

Over a recent two-month period, Falck responded to more than 27,000 emergency response calls with fewer than one percent resulting in significant delays.

Still, we know there is much more work to be done.

That is why we are doing everything we can to honor our commitment to San Diego and provide the best possible emergency services to the city. Falck has already invested more than $30 million in its San Diego operation — from new ambulances to advanced emergency medical equipment.

Falck is aggressively working to attract new employees and retain our current workforce, including offering an unprecedented $50,000 sign-on bonus for paramedics — one of the highest in the nation — which is already attracting new talent at double the previous rate. Since Dec., 31 new paramedics are either already on the road, in their field training, or preparing to begin their new hire orientation.

We are also investing in our current workforce, paying up to $12,000 per year for EMTs to attend paramedic school with the ability to maintain their full-time status and benefits around their school schedule.

But extraordinary sector-wide staffing shortages, a severe and lingering consequence of the pandemic, remain a significant barrier to improvement and the root cause of Falck’s challenges meeting higher benchmarks outlined in our agreement with the city.

The health care sector lost an estimated 1.5 million jobs within the first two months of the pandemic. While some of those jobs have returned, the industry is still well below pre-pandemic numbers. There is a significant shortage of paramedics and EMTs, as thousands have left the profession due to fear of COVID-19 exposure, the death of colleagues and burnout from workload and stress.

This situation is not unique to San Diego or exclusive to publicly or privately run services. In major cities across the country, staffing shortages remain a difficult barrier to providing better emergency services. On Jan. 19, local media reported Colorado Springs faces a “drop in [ambulance] response time… due to staffing shortages following the pandemic.” In December, news reports described how San Francisco, where the city manages the ambulance service, continues to face “pandemic-era staffing shortages.”

The staffing crisis is impacting every part of the health care delivery system.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the nation will need 275,000 additional nurses by 2030 to fill a gap impacting “emergency departments, medical admission wards, and ICUs around the country, leading to significant delays in care, difficulty getting hospital beds, and most importantly, poorer healthcare outcomes.”

Falck’s initiatives designed to support our emergency response workforce are helping. A new agreement with the city can build on that positive progress.

That is why Falck is working closely with the city’s Fire-Rescue Department and has proposed numerous solutions, including setting achievable benchmarks that recognize and help address persistent challenges in health care and support progress toward better service for city residents.

These solutions would help empower the city as a partner, boost recruitment, strengthen retention and make it more attractive and rewarding to be an emergency response professional in San Diego — including supporting a raise for EMTs and paramedics who have faced fatigue, lost time with friends and family and unprecedented challenges during the pandemic. We are incredibly grateful for the sacrifices and work of our emergency response professionals.

Falck is eager to work with city leaders on solutions to the challenges we all face, strengthen our emergency response workforce and better serve the city and people of San Diego.

Yann Hedoux is C.E.O. of Falck US Ambulance.

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