Oregon’s EMS provider shortage reaches ‘breaking point’

By Jane Vaughan (Jefferson Public Radio)
Sept. 24, 2022 6:45 p.m.
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File photo of an ambulance serving Multnomah County. A shortage of EMS personnel has left the industry scrambling.

Kristian Foden-Vencil / OPB

Emergency medical service providers throughout Oregon are sounding the alarm about workforce shortages in their field.


At a meeting of the House Interim Committee on Veterans and Emergency Management on Thursday, EMS leaders laid out the crisis occurring in their industry.

“The agencies that are in Southern Oregon are experiencing unprecedented workforce shortages and struggling to be able to provide services in a timely manner for our communities that we serve,” said Sheila Clough, CEO of Mercy Flights, a nonprofit ambulance organization based in Medford.

Low wages, long hours and tough working conditions are driving the workforce to leave for other industries, according to speakers at the meeting. Oregon has seen a drastic decrease in job applicants since the COVID-19 pandemic began, leaving agencies without the critical workforce they need to serve communities.


Clough said a regional survey of 21 Oregon EMS agencies revealed 158 vacancies for paramedics and 84 vacancies for EMTs.

“We’re still at 1990 staffing levels,” said Karl Koenig from the Oregon State Fire Fighters Council. “1990 staffing will not solve a 2022 and beyond problem.”

Clough said she’s been forced to turn to national recruiters in order to find applicants, and even then, the shortages still persist, especially in small and rural communities.

“We are very concerned that we’re at a breaking point. And if we did have a mass casualty incident of some kind, would we be breaking the entire EMS system?” she said.

Oregon is not alone. Much of the county is facing similar EMS workforce shortages.

While the committee spent little time discussing solutions, speakers mentioned raising wages, providing additional hiring incentives, leveraging professional partnerships and increasing diversity in hiring to broaden applicants as ways to help address the problem.

“I think we have to look at our workforce and really promote diversity within the fire service and EMS profession,” said Roger Johnson, fire chief for the Sisters-Camp Sherman Fire District. “I think there’s a lot of people that aren’t probably looking at this as a career, and we need to get out in front of that and bring more people into this profession that wouldn’t otherwise think about it.”