Union concerned about staffing constraints for paramedics in Portsmouth, wants collective bargaining


PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — A local union representing Portsmouth firefighters and paramedics says the city isn’t always getting the highest level of care due to staffing shortages among the city’s highest-trained EMS providers.

The group says the staffing problem is one of multiple issues that can be fixed through collective bargaining — but city leaders have to agree to it first.

The union told 10 On Your Side employee turnover is a big reason behind the staffing level shortages. They’re trying to raise awareness about the issue. They also want a seat at the table with city leaders to find a solution.

In a Facebook post, the Portsmouth Professional Fire Fighters and Paramedic Association said citizens and visitors are being asked to settle for less when it comes to public safety.

“We have certain shortages within the levels of certifications in EMTs,” said Chris LaLonge, union chapter vice-president.

He said each ambulance in the city is staffed with emergency medical technicians who are certified under different levels of care: basic, advanced and paramedic.

Paramedic is the highest level of care.

However, LaLonge said due to staffing constraints, Portsmouth no longer has a paramedic on every ambulance — or “medic” unit — at all times.

“Our goal is to have the top level of care on every medic, every day,” LaLonge said. “Right now it’s not possible because of employee turnover.”

The region is fighting to stay competitive. LaLonge said people who get hired in the field don’t always stick around.

“Let’s say, for example, we have 10 people leave for the year. You know, that’s $500,000 in training that just walked out of the door that we now have to replace,” LaLonge said.

The union said it wants to collaborate with city leaders through collective bargaining.

LaLonge said it will reduce turnover, save money and can address other issues.

“It’s not just a pay plan. It’s injury prevention, it’s cancer prevention, it’s station conditions, it’s equipment, it’s training, it’s insurance rates,” he said.

We’re told City Council has to make a decision by August. The union is asking the public to contact their leaders to make a change.

10 On Your Side reached out to some Portsmouth City Council members about this issue. We either didn’t hear back in time for the publication of this story or they did not wish to comment.

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