CLEVELAND- The FOX 8 I-Team has obtained a letter written by a paramedic resigning from Cleveland EMS outlining a long list of serious problems with the ambulance service affecting workers and patients like you and your family.
Paramedic Megan Mull sent the letter to officials and city council members at Cleveland City Hall.
She wrote she had planned on a career with EMS, but she is leaving the job due to a “toxic and dangerous environment.”
In short, the letter cites too many calls for help handled by too few paramedics working forced overtime -- doing all of that while earning pay called “not close to competitive.”
In fact, Mull refers to city ambulances frequently taken out of service and unable to respond to calls due to short staffing.
The letter also cites “public embarrassment” with ambulance units breaking down while carrying patients.
And the letter raises a safety concern with paramedics in Cleveland sent to crimes in progress even before police get there.
The I-Team has reported on many of these problems before investigating staffing, and response times, condition of equipment and much more.
Mull ended her letter by writing, “I want to make it clear and known that I am not leaving CEMS for another job. I will miss this career, the citizens, and my coworkers deeply.”
The I-Team reached out to city hall for comment over two days. The only response we received was silence. City spokespeople did not respond at all to our inquiries about this.
You can read the full letter, below:
To Whom It May Concern,
I regret to inform you of my departure from Cleveland EMS (CEMS). Despite having completed paramedic school with the plan of a full career at CEMS, I no longer have any reason to believe this is a healthy long term environment. I have cared for and learned from my coworkers and patients here, and I will value those experiences forever. I find being an urban medic rewarding, exhilarating, and exhausting. Regrettably, the combination of low compensation, high stress, and poor management practices have forced me to make an unwanted departure.
In departure paperwork requested to be completed, I was given two lines to explain why I am leaving employment with CEMS, and to do so with such limited space would be both inaccurate and incomplete.
1. Working Conditions
- CEMS handles the most calls with the smallest ratio of employees of any surrounding EMS department, but lacks standard equipment to make our jobs safer and less physically demanding. One solution would be autoloaders (equipment most cities squads have to lift the cot safely into/out of the ambulance) or Lucas’ devices (machines that perform consistent, high quality CPR and improve patient outcomes). Equipment other departments consider standard.
- My assigned unit had no air conditioning in the front cab for weeks during June 2019 with temperature in the 90’s. CEMS employees are required to wear law enforcement styled ballistic vests in every situation other than at base or hospitals. Wearing a ballistic vest while in an ambulance, during a 90 degree or hotter day, with no front AC, is unsafe. The heavy material meant to protect the body becomes a threat as body temperatures rise. When reporting to upper management about broken equipment, CEMS was told that front cab AC would be fixed during annual maintenance, and it was not a requirement. Medic 17 was told the same. Air conditioning in the rear compartment is considered a priority for patient care.
- Medic 6’s EMS room has not had AC or a refrigerator/freezer since early July, which has been repeatedly reported.
- Constantly wearing ballistic vests also causes health problems for many employees, including myself, who has seen a chiropractor repeatedly to put my ribs back into place. Please see attached note from Dr. Massey.
- August 3, 2019 (run number E1907141), CEMS 6 was dispatched to male beating a female with a stick at an approximate intersection from a passerby. While staging for CPD, I was told Medic 6, my assigned unit, was not staging close enough to the scene. CPD was not yet dispatched. The call was located on a busy bus line where parties could rapidly move, and the only EMS guideline is a verbal direction of staging at paramedic discretion. The fact that CEMS is on scene staging before CPD is dispatched for assaults in progress is dangerous, well documented, and inappropriate for medical personnel.
- CEMS still sends ambulances to 911 hang ups, an unheard of and dangerous practice for medical professionals. In other major cities, police investigate these calls and call for a squad if a medical emergency is found.
2. Low Compensation for Extremely High Responsibility
- Untrained city employees receive $15 an hour pay, but state certified CEMS paramedics start at $17.49, and with 2 years’ experience make $19.81. These pay rates are from 2015, as the awarded arbitration has not yet been implemented, although completed nearly one year ago. To be eligible for full retirement, CEMS employees must perform these tasks for 32 years, with little room for advancement. This job involves responsibility over dangerous drugs, operating specialized equipment, years of schooling, pronouncing death, restoring pulses, specialized cardiac care, intubation, navigating the city while driving a large vehicle in unpredictable traffic and inclement weather, significant lifting of patients and equipment, caring for abused and critical children, and informing families their loved one is dead. There is no training that can prepare you for a critical patient begging you not to let them die. The pay is not close to competitive, when combined with work environment as cited above, and management issues listed below. With a higher per unit call volume than even New Orleans EMS it is no surprise our medics are tired, disillusioned and burnt out. Unsafe or not, if we refuse a mandate (an additional 6 hours) leading to an 18 hour shift with all these responsibilities, then on our day off we are required to attend a Pre Disciplinary Hearing where we are questioned and pressured to accept them in the future.
3. Constantly Training New Employees, or CFD
- On my last full arrest CFD First Responders were unable to ventilate our patient, or complete basic medical skills besides CPR. First responders have also informed me on other occasions they are unable to apply defibrillation pads, set up an IV bag, or turn on the sirens. This is a frequent problem and CEMS is running full codes while managing better compensated staff. With our extremely high turnover rate, paramedics also routinely find themselves with inexperienced partners who also must be assisted navigating, performing medical skills and guided through patient treatment. In many other fields this would be recognized with a pay gap, or hourly sum for supervision responsibility. At CEMS, your support staff is luck of the draw.
4. Public Embarrassment
- CEMS routinely has to apologize for the state of their vehicles, including when they break down with patients inside. On Nov 6, 2018 at Public Square, my previous unit Medic 28(which has over 370,00 miles and a bullet indentation) had the back door break, as had happened dozens of times, with a woman in active labor and was profusely apologizing to irate family that another unit, Medic 20 had to be called from base. As you may have seen on the news, another unit experienced nightmarish conditions when their spare unit broke down on the scene of a cardiac arrest. This crew was not recognized for an amazing performance under horrible conditions for getting the patient’s heart beating again.
- When these events make the news, the commissioner has chosen to state it may be operator error. In fact, it was left out of the public statement about the cardiac arrest that truck was towed, and that staff attempting to drive the vehicle had decades of experience. Additionally, the commissioner erred in citing the wrong ambulance details, as they were in a spare with many more miles and issues, which had been put back in rotation within 2 weeks.
- The commissioner’s opposition to providing equal PTSD coverage for CEMS as CFD and CPD receive is truly alarming. It is unconscionable that the CEMS employees who care for victims of events that headline news around the country, handling families of victims with care and compassion, and themselves documenting the darkest details of human behavior do not receive the benefits provided by the city to so many others.
Our field medics “do the most with the least”, as is often quoted by surrounding departments, but our own management doesn’t seem to feel that way. I can assure you employees will continue to leave a career they love for better management, better compensation, or a less stressful work environment. I regret to write to you in such circumstances, but I truly believe this is a toxic and dangerous environment for many people I care about. Too often, and most of my last shifts, units are being shut down at 1 pm due to lack of staff. Thousands of residents depend on a system that is being run into the ground, with good employees being driven away, forced to choose between their health and career. I want to make it clear and known that I am not leaving CEMS for another job.
I will miss this career, the citizens, and my coworkers deeply.