Free EMS education program helps ease EMT shortage in Lapeer County

In Lapeer County, east of Flint, a new EMT education program is helping to grow the county's EMT and paramedic workforce.
This entry in the Nonprofit Journal Project is part of a series of articles about how Michigan health care professionals are responding to the state's health care workforce shortage. It is made possible with funding from the Michigan Health Endowment Fund.

According to the Michigan Association of Ambulance Services, Michigan needs approximately 1,000 new paramedics and emergency medical technicians (EMTs). EMTs and paramedics at strained emergency medical services (EMS) agencies are working overtime, which leads to increased costs and burnout. In many cases, agency leadership staff are taking on road shifts to ensure their communities are covered.

Causes for the workforce shortage are many. Fewer students are entering programs to become paramedics or EMTs. The number of programs offering EMS education has shrunk. The pandemic made working in EMS more dangerous and labor-intensive. In addition, some students enrolled in EMS training use their certification as a stepping stone to nursing or physician assistant training or a job in a hospital. EMS agencies are seeing a 30% retirement rate per year. And growing numbers of paramedics and EMTs are not renewing their licenses. In Michigan, more than 2,000 let their licenses lapse in 2021 alone.
The shortage of EMTs and paramedics is hitting Michigan’s rural communities especially hard. However, in Lapeer County, east of Flint, a new EMT education program is helping to grow the county's EMT and paramedic workforce. Lapeer County EMS Director Russ Adams recently chatted with us about the program.
Q: How will the new Lapeer County EMS training academy address EMT and paramedic workforce shortages in your county’s communities?
A: We actually started a training program [on Jan. 9, 2024]. The grant was written for 20 students per program and we ended up with 20 people in attendance. The program runs Tuesdays and Thursdays from 6 to 10 p.m. and that goes for 24 weeks. There will be some Saturdays involved for scenario testing or preparatory items like that.
Lapeer County EMS Education Program Manager Luke Bowen leads a session of the new EMT training program.
This is the first of two scheduled training programs as a result of the grant from the Michigan Health Endowment Fund. The grant does a couple of things for us. Number one, it allowed us to hire a full-time education coordinator. We needed somebody specifically responsible to the students, to the programming, and to expanding the program.
Secondarily, it allows the students to take the program at no cost. There's one small catch. We feel that people have to have something to lose. So, there was a deposit required to get into the academy, 25% of the cost of the program. The program costs $2,000. To take it, they were required to pay a $500 deposit. If they finish the program and pass the testing, they're going to be reimbursed that initial payment.
The program then pays for all of their educational materials, their uniform, their tools, and even their testing fees. Oftentimes in an educational program, that certification test is outside of the program. That test itself is usually $100 or a little bit more. Quite honestly, if someone's looking to get into this field, and they're young 20s, an extra $100 isn't always lying around.
A session of the new EMT training program.
So this grant allowed us to put on two programs, hire staff to manage those programs, and offer them at no cost to our community members.
Q: How will you sustain the program after the grant funding?
A: We are involving some of our local educational community, specifically the Lapeer County Intermediate School District. Our educational coordinator is investing time into those relationships, those collaborative agreements with the ISD. We began having background and informational conversations about this opportunity with the ISD prior to the grant. As a matter of fact, they wrote a supportive letter for the grant as a community partner within our grant package. We're in the final rounds of discussions to develop an EMT program for the ISD for next school year.
Lapeer County EMS Education Program Manager Luke Bowen leads a session of the new EMT training program.
We're looking at this as literally planting the seeds to the future of our program. We can start here and then continue to develop programs with the ISD or get involved with the local community colleges.
Q: Why is working as an EMT rewarding?
A: When you look at EMTs in the public safety sector, sometimes there's a hero-type scenario. There certainly are circumstances where you are involved in saving a life, but those are few and far between. But we've got segments of our community that don't have ready access to health care, that don't have ready access to funds to sustain health care. We've got elderly and disabled. What we do is looked upon as community service. Somebody could have fallen. Somebody needs a ride or an intervention to get to the next level of care. So why is EMS rewarding? I'll tell you why. It gives you a strong sense of community, especially in areas like Lapeer County, these more rural environments where we're literally helping neighbors and supporting our family and friends.
A session of the new EMT training program.
It wasn't a lifesaving intervention that we came out to do. But we helped in that situation, helped community members to get additional care that they needed. I try and stay away from that hero [mentality] and say no, this is a gift of service — and be ready for just about anything because the next time the alarm goes off, it might be a choking baby, it might be a car accident, or it might be somebody having a heart attack.

Estelle Slootmaker is a working writer focusing on journalism, book editing, communications, poetry, and children's books. You can contact her at or

Photos by Bryce Mata.
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