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New Orleans EMS director quits amid staffing shortages

November 21, 2021 GMT

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — There’s a vacancy in the top post of New Orleans Emergency Medical Services.

The director, Dr. Emily Nichols, is resigning after more than three years in the job, a spokesperson for the agency said Friday.

Nichols told her paramedics that she was leaving the agency, which has been hit by staffing shortages worsened by the coronavirus pandemic. The agency intended to announce the resignation Monday, spokesperson Jonathan Fourcade said.

He said Nichols’ departure is expected in the next few weeks.

Details about why Nichols quit weren’t immediately available, but Fourcade said that she had not been forced out, The Times-Picayune/The New Orleans Advocate reported.

Mayor LaToya Cantrell appointed Nichols in May 2018.

New Orleans Emergency Medical Services was already dealing with staffing shortages and employee burnout when the pandemic began in 2020. COVID-19 sparked even more shortages, with emergency medical technicians and paramedics either out sick or in quarantine.

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Many ambulances have also broken down. 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-TV that she did not think that was sustainable. She said the long-term answer was to increase pay at the agency, 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.