CLEVELAND — Linda Gibson of Cleveland is concerned about the city's ability to respond to emergencies after her 7-year-old great grandson was attacked by a dog on July 25, and said the city told her it didn't readily have an ambulance to take him to the hospital.
Gibson said when she dialed 9-1-1, she was told she'd have to wait for EMS to arrive at her West 41st Street home, and said fortunately a family friend happened to stop in for a visit to take her great grandson to MetroHealth Medical Center.
The incident again raises questions about the ongoing Cleveland EMS staffing shortage that temporarily took eight of 25 EMS units out of service during a weekend brownout this past June.
“They said you'll have to wait, there’s none available. I can’t wait when a dog bit him,” Gibson said. "You can’t wait. She said 'I’ll send one as soon as possible.' Some people could die like that waiting for an EMS, I’m sorry to say that, but that’s exactly what can happen.”
Gibson knows staffing is an issue, but also stressed that some incidents can't wait for long periods of time because of staffing shortage.
“I know it’s hard because they don’t have many workers and stuff like that, but still yet, you can’t wait for an EMS if a kid got bit," Gibson said. “Our friend just happened to be here, she was going to visit, and buddy that was a God save, I’m telling you.”
Gibson said she also called police, but said the police also did not have a unit to send. Only the Cleveland dog warden's office sent help, and was said to have done a wonderful job assisting the family though the serious dog bite.
Joe Jones, president of child advocacy group Father Lives Matter, said the city must address the EMS staffing shortage as soon as possible.
“That is totally unacceptable, and they’re putting lives in serious danger," Jones said. “Our residents are in serious risk, what if things would have turned worse and this kid started bleeding out? This problem can’t wait until cadets are done, it can’t wait for a new mayor, this problem has to be fixed, like yesterday."
Paul Melhuish, president of the Cleveland Association of Rescue Employees Local 1975, acknowledged the serious staffing shortage. Melhuish said the City of Cleveland is currently contracted for 250 EMS professionals to be on the street, but said currently only 193 are on the job.
“We’re treading a thin line," Melhuish said. “Any delayed response is horrible because we are an emergency service and we try to get out there as fast as we can. In June we only had five that came out of that cadet class, so it really didn’t help us a whole lot."
Melhuish said his team is doing the best it can to maintain response time, with a growing number of staff members working 18-hour shifts, but he said an increase in the starting pay of $15 an hour is desperately needed to attract and maintain staffing levels.
“The violence that’s been going on in the city lately, our call volume is very, very high, it’s hard to keep up with, especially when you’re short. We have people call us up all the time and say 'hey we’d love to work for you guys, I just can’t take the pay cut,'" Melhuish said. “I mean think about it, right now, we can go to Cedar Point and start at Cedar Point at $20 an hour, but a paramedic is going to start at $15. I have a gas station down the street that’s hiring at $16.75 an hour. How can you justify giving a paramedic that’s had all this training to come in and start at $15 an hour? It just doesn’t make any sense.”
Melhuish said the city administration is proposing bringing in part-time paramedics to deal with the current crisis, and pay them nearly $30 an hour, but said increasing the starting wage for full-time employees is the long term solution.
“We did increase to 25 units, and we’re trying to keep those 25 units up as long as we can, as much as we can, but it’s very difficult," Melhuish said. “There isn’t a relief in sight, meaning there isn’t enough people coming in to actually balance this out. I don’t understand why you want part time paramedics to come in here at a wage of $28.90 an hour to start, when you’re starting full-time paramedics at $15.”
News 5 sent three emails and made two phone calls to the Cleveland mayor's office over a two-day period to get its plan in addressing the EMS staffing shortage, but we're still waiting for a response. News 5 will follow up on this important issue.
Meanwhile, Linda Gibson is hoping more EMS professional can be hired in the coming weeks.
“They need to give them more, these guys work themselves hard, they go out and save lives and everything, they need to go out and give them some more money," Gibson said. “If it was a heart attack or something, that person would have been dead before the EMS got there.”