Keep in mind that these individuals and families are experiencing life-changing circumstances, like navigating a rare medical diagnosis or healing from a catastrophic injury.
They have a big need. They deserve a lot of help. And yet, they pause and think of someone else. They worry that others need it more.
“I’m not as bad, so I’m fine.”
It’s the same sentiment you’ll hear from Austin’s medics – but maybe not for the reasons you might think.
Austin-Travis County EMS is one of the world’s most prestigious EMS departments, responding to 911 calls with Austin City Limits and surrounding areas of Travis County.
They serve a population of over 2.2M citizens in a service region of over 1,039 square miles and have multiple response capabilities that include a state-of-the-art 911 call center, pre-hospital emergency medical services on ambulances, and rescue and tactical paramedics.
While most of the assistance they give to the community is medical in nature, the smallest part of what they do involves truly time-critical life-threatening emergencies.
Yet everything they do is about service: service to patients, their families and loved ones; service to the community; and service to the people who make up Austin-Travis County Emergency Medical Services.
As with most first responders - including firefighters and police officers - medics often put their needs second in service to the community. But unlike most first responders, they are typically grossly under-compensated.
Currently, APD officer base pay is $62,895. Austin firefighters earn a base salary of $60,053 in year one. But for Austin-Travis County EMS, the starting salary is $41,480.
“We created the Austin EMS Relief Fund to enhance excellence in patient care and support the wellbeing of Austin-Travis County medics,” said Selena Xie, the president of the Austin EMS Association.
“In the last two years, we have realized an overwhelming need for medics to have ongoing access to relief funds, training scholarships, critical care equipment, and reimbursements for community care medications.”
“Specifically this year, we have received a staggering number of requests for relief funding because Austin rents and property taxes have skyrocketed while wages have not increased,” she continued.
The Austin EMS Relief Fund was created to help many medics so they didn’t lose electricity or become homeless.
When the pandemic first hit in 2019, Austin medics were disproportionately affected. Not only were they responding to more calls and feeling the weight of a nationwide health crisis, but they were also susceptible to the same pandemic they were treating. Those who tested positive for COVID were unable to work overtime, impacting their ability to pay rent or afford basic needs.
Still, they showed up. Every day, they put their health and lives on the line to help those in need.
“I’m not as bad, so I’m fine.”
Then came the historic snow and ice storm that struck Central Texas, worsening an already dire situation. The roads were nearly untraversable and much of the city was without power or water for days – even weeks. But still, they showed up, braving treacherous conditions to answer the 911 calls flooding the dispatch center.
Many worked 24- and 48-hour shifts, only returning home for brief periods of time to check on their own homes and families before returning back to the station.
The Austin EMS Relief Fund helped many medics bridge the gap, allowing them the opportunity to catch up on past due bills or cover unexpected medical expenses. Some were dealing with life-threatening health conditions of their own and were forced to miss time at work. Without the Relief Fund, it was difficult to say what they would have done or where they would have turned.
The Relief Fund also developed other programming based on feedback from the medics on what they were seeing from the community. The first is youth outreach – teaching EMT basics and stop the bleed courses to build a general understanding of first aid. The second is a petty cash fund to help community members.
“Sometimes, a person will call 9-1-1 because of a health issue and the solution will be for them to take their medication,” Selena explained. “Only they either can’t afford their medication or are unable to leave their home to get it. Our medics identified that need and were paying out of their own pockets to help these community members. But it happened frequently enough that they later suggested a petty cash fund to be able to help with those quick financial needs.”
(Once again, they were thinking about others over themselves.)
When we met with Selena, she mentioned how Austin EMS has received higher call volumes than ever before, but are currently experiencing a 25% staffing shortage. They simply need more resources to be able to help the community and their medics.
It’s time for the help to come their way for a change.
Chive Charities and our donor family have proudly supported first responders since that first call for assistance came from the Fluvanna County Fire Department in February 2011. Serving the underserved is core to everything we do, and we were thrilled to be able to partner with the Austin EMS Relief Fund, funding a $10,000 grant to support five medics with various individual needs as part of their main relief fund program.
Typically, they’re able to provide funding in $500-$2,500 amounts distributed directly to medics experiencing hardship. That includes support for medical bills, rent, childcare, food, and other basic needs.
“This year has been challenging for medics who continue to be affected by the pandemic,” said Selena, “Which has resulted in low morale and staffing shortages. It is through these difficult times that we have realized the overwhelming need for medics to have ongoing access to relief funds, not only related to the pandemic or ice storm, but in perpetuity.”
For EMS, service is more than simply responding to calls. It’s evaluating what they do so they can improve their performance and meet new needs as they become apparent. Service is working with the community to help people better care for themselves and each other. And service is taking care of their own people, so they are better able to serve their patients and the community.
Through that service, they have the opportunity to save the lives of some, and change the lives of many. That sounds a lot like another community that we know and love. At the end of the day, anyone who needs help should be able to get help, no matter how “bad” anyone else’s situation might seem. If you need it, ask for it. We have a community here to support you. Become part of it and DONATE HERE.
Editor’s Note: If you’re interested in serving the community as a medic, start with EMT basic courses offered throughout the year. Then, schedule a ride-out with a local crew and see more of what they experience firsthand. For more information, visit https://www.austintexas.gov/content/ems-austin-travis-county.