EMT program works to overcome workforce shortage, perception of the job

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. -- In a life-or-death emergency, an EMT or paramedic is a lifeline. But right now, emergency medical service providers are straining to keep up with a demand.

Across the state, more EMTs and paramedics are needed in ambulances like these to answer the growing volume of calls. They’re needed to treat the increasing number of people suffering from everything from heart attacks and seizures to drug overdoses.

“There’s always going to be something new to be afraid of,” said Leon Bell, Chief of Academic Affairs for Indianapolis EMS.

First responders have to run toward what other people fear.

“In the middle 70's it’s hazardous materials,” said Bell. “In the 80's it’s HIV and AIDS. In the 90's, it’s terrorism. In the early 90's, it’s definitely terrorism and now, it’s heroin.”

Bell has watched the local population and access to healthcare grow, while relatively fewer people are willing to face those dangers.

Right now though, more medics are needed. Drug, especially heroin, overdoses are at an all-time high and a lot more sick people are calling for help.

“I think just one day, I just woke up and said, ‘I need to do this. I have to go do this,’” said Jon-Michael Gioe.

Jon-Michael Gioe was a chef until six months ago.

Now he’s on the front lines, helping treat sick people, who at times, don’t even want his help.

“When somebody is very sick, like we just got them back from an overdose or when they’re kind of altered mentally and they don’t really realize what just happened to them,” said Gioe. “They can get aggressive sometimes and it’s you know, not necessarily their fault. It’s just where they are at that time.”

People like Jon-Michael, who are willing to trade in the challenges of the job for a new career, are part of the Indianapolis EMS strategy to reduce the shortage.

One branch of their education program is targeted at people who are working in other industries and may be looking for a change. They put them through the full EMT course and at the end, offer the option to take a full-time job.

The hope is that more civilians will see how rewarding the job can be and just how many people need the lifeline EMTs offer.

“Like being a chef, it’s a thankless job. I didn’t get into it to get thanked or for praise or anything like that,” said Gioe. “I got into it to help people.”