While S.C. faces EMT shortage, Grand Strand training program says enrollment is up

S.C. struggling to retain EMTs

HORRY COUNTY, S.C. (WMBF) - The South Carolina EMS Association says 13% of emergency response jobs across the state went unfilled last year.

Research shows the Palmetto State isn’t turning out enough emergency medical service workers to meet the demand, which is on top of a statewide shortage.

There are 15 accredited EMS training programs throughout S.C., including right here in the Grand Strand over at Horry Georgetown Technical College. While research shows there was a 40% decline in people signing up and graduating from EMS training courses compared to 2018, HGTC representatives on the other hand said they notice an increase in enrollment every year.

Scott Cyganiewicz, director of the EMT and paramedic program at HGTC, said this school year represents the highest number of students in the program that he’s ever seen.

However, officials with the S.C. EMS Association and the Office of Healthcare workforce said during the 2017-2018 school year, some training programs across the state were severely under-enrolled.

Most programs were only 50% to 60% full of new students. Officials said such factors as low pay, long hours, and poor working conditions could be to blame.

While Henry Lewis, the president of the South Carolina EMS association, said it’s “not doing a good job” of reaching new paramedics, HGTC works closely with Horry County Fire Rescue. School officials said that partnership has been a success, with 14 completing the program last year.

Cyganiewicz said the long-term problem is keeping these people in the field. Research also found burnout is an issue, with more than 70% of EMS workers leaving the profession after only eight years.

“I think that when we tend to see turnover, it’s people advancing in their education. As an institution, we have a paramedic to nursing bridge where those individuals can ultimately work as a nurse after spending a year longer further in their education. So, I tend to think a lot of people use EMS as a stepping stone and then realize that nursing is there - physician assistant school, nurse practitioner - and there’s some that go on to medical school,” said Cyganiewicz.

Officials said as the population continues to grow in Horry County, the need for EMTs increases.

The EMS Association is in the process of implementing a plan to target high school seniors. Cyganiewicz said HGTC is partnering up with Horry County Schools and plans to offer EMT courses at St. James High School during the upcoming school year.

Horry County Fire Rescue officials said they currently have 18 openings, several of those coming through retirement.

“We received approximately 175 applications from individuals who want to work for our organization. Horry County is a great place to work and live, as evident by this competitive hiring process,” said HCFR spokesperson Tony Casey.

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