New Orleans (LA) EMS Director Quits Agency Beset by Staffing Shortages, Pandemic

Ramon Antonio Vargas

The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate

(MCT)

Nov. 20—The director of New Orleans Emergency Medical Services is resigning after more than three years at its helm, a spokesperson said Friday.

Dr. Emily Nichols, 43, informed her corps of paramedics she is departing an agency that has been beset by staffing shortages exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic.

Spokesperson Jonathan Fourcade said the agency intended to announce her resignation Monday. He said her departure is expected in the next few weeks.

Details about why Nichols is leaving, and her future plans, weren’t immediately available. Fourcade said Nichols wasn’t forced out.

Mayor LaToya Cantrell appointed Nichols as director in May 2018. She completed her undergraduate studies at Princeton University and graduated from New York City’s Yeshiva University medical school in 2002, and she served a residency at hospitals in Brooklyn and Philadelphia. She later worked as an emergency room physician at Ochsner Health System in the New Orleans area, specializing in pediatric care.

New Orleans Emergency Medical Services was already grappling with staffing shortages and employee burnout when the pandemic erupted in Louisiana in the spring of 2020. The pandemic soon drove a spike in 911 calls, and in short order large numbers of emergency medical technicians and paramedics were either out sick or in quarantine.

Hospitals overflowed, leaving long wait times for ambulances pulling up to emergency rooms. Many ambulances have also broken down. And recently, with only nine ambulances available from a fleet of 40, Nichols decided to send some paramedics and EMTs home despite the staffing shortfalls, leaving the agency unable to answer some emergency medical calls.

While the agency has relied on help from private ambulance companies, Nichols last month told WWL television that she did not think that was sustainable. She said the long-term answer was to increase pay at Emergency Medical Services, where EMTs make $37,000 a year and paramedics $48,000 or more.

“We know it’s hard,” Nichols said. “I don’t think there’s a perfect answer when we’re struggling.”

Civil Service records recently obtained by WWL show that about 75 medics had left the agency since the beginning of 2019. As of September, more than 20 full-time jobs were vacant, out of 156 positions.

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