She's now 40 years old and a single mom of two children, ages 8 and 10. Lori receives no financial assistance from her ex-husband.
Despite seven years' experience as a nationally registered paramedic with an associate's degree, Lori earns $13.79 an hour. She works approximately 82 hours every two weeks, earning an annual salary of $31,661. But she pays $400 a month for her part of her health insurance benefits program, thus bringing her effective annual salary down to approximately $26,861. Her employer does not provide retirement, but she has the opportunity to contribute to a Keogh plan, a tax-deferred qualified retirement plan. She does not receive vacation per se, but earns paid time off (PTO) based upon her longevity and hours worked. Still, she has a hard time making ends meet.
"My rent is $800 a month, and I am sometimes late on that," she says. "The cost of living in Mississippi is not as cheap as some people think."
She depends on garage sales and hand-me-down clothes from family members to keep her and her children clothed. "I'm not above buying my clothes at Goodwill," she says.
Lori drives a 1999 Mercury Sable with 70,000 miles on the odometer. "At least it's paid for. My old car had over 200,000 miles on it when I traded it in," she sighs.
When asked why she doesn't leave Mississippi, she says, "Mississippi is my home. I'm scared to go anywhere else. Besides, my dad has Parkinson's disease and I don't want to get too far from him."
EMS is Lori's passion and her life, but, she laments, "I don't know how much longer I can hold out. I hope this article opens people's eyes. EMS is dangerous, and we don't get paid well. The public needs to know that we save lives and make a difference. We should be paid a decent wage. But, gosh, I love EMS."
Mississippi has a serious shortage of paramedics. The state enacted legislation requiring paramedics to obtain at least 1,700 hours of paramedic training. If attending school part-time, it often takes students three years to complete the required program. Poor salaries and long-required educational programs are the principal reasons for the paramedic shortage. In 2003, only six Mississippi paramedics took the National Registry examination. Only 32 paramedics are scheduled to graduate from the state's eight paramedic programs over the next two years. Because of the paramedic shortage, the Mississippi Board of Health recently reduced the required paramedic educational hours to 1,200.
Ann Ritter, age 39, has been in EMS for approximately 10 years. Originally from Florida, Ann moved to New York and presently works as a paramedic near Albany. Ann entered EMS after a divorce. She had been involved in EMS in Florida as a first responder, and it seemed a natural profession for her to enter. Originally, Ann was in pre-veterinary school, but her divorce put her plans of becoming a veterinarian on hold. Today, Ann is a single mom to two teenage children, ages 13 and 16. Fortunately, Ann receives child support from her ex-husband in Florida.
In order to make ends meet, Ann works three EMS jobs. Her full-time employment is with Northern Dutchess Paramedics, which serves Dutchess County, NY. However, to make enough money to support her family, Ann also works part time at Alamo Ambulance, also in Dutchess County, and Chatham Rescue Squad in Columbia County. Ann's typical 72-hour work week includes 48 hours at Northern Dutchess Paramedics, 12 hours at Alamo Ambulance and 12 hours at Chatham Rescue Squad.
"I am working 96 hours next week-I need the money," she says.
Presently, Ann earns $14.50 an hour at Northern Dutchess Paramedics, $15.50 an hour at Alamo Ambulance and $13.50 at Chatham County Rescue. Unlike her cohorts in the southern United States, Ann receives a good benefits package through Northern Dutchess Paramedics. Her medical insurance is paid by the company and covers her children as well. She receives two weeks of paid vacation and PTO a year, as well as sick leave.