Spirit looks outside the U.S. for help


By Ryan Berry


GREENVILLE — Developing a workforce in some fields continues to be difficult and companies are having to think outside the box to find workers. The healthcare field is one of those sectors were finding qualified workers or even finding the workers to train is becoming increasingly difficult. Spirit EMS (Emergency Medical Service) has had to park some of its ambulances because it can’t find enough EMTs (Emergency Medical Technician) and paramedics. The company has 130 facilities – hospitals, nursing homes, etc. – on stand-by because they do not have enough workers to handle the load.

How do you fill your ambulances with qualified EMTs and paramedics? Spirit EMS is not only thinking outside the box, but they are also looking outside the country.

Brian Hathaway, president and CEO of Spirit EMS recently announced his company has become the second in the nation to hire paramedics from Australia to fill some of the positions his company needs. In mid-November, three Australians with the bachelor’s degrees in paramedicine agreed to come to Greenville on a two-year Work Visa. Three more are expected to come in February. Although it won’t completely fill the need of the 20-30 spots Spirit needs to fill, it is expected to help tremendously. The new employees are Karl Kleinekathoefer, Phoenix Justice Waters and Hugh Walton.

Hathaway shared Australia is witnessing something the United States can only dream about. They have more paramedics coming out of college than they have jobs available.

Hathaway said Covid had a huge impact on his workforce. When Covid hit, many of the EMT and paramedic classes were canceled and several of their paramedics sought positions in the emergency rooms at area hospitals to help fill their need for workers. By working at a hospital, those employees have better benefits than what a locally owned medical transport business can offer its employees. He also said some great EMTs, and paramedics got out of the healthcare field completely.

Those factors led to a dire need for EMTs and paramedics not only in Darke County but throughout the United States.

Spirit has scoured Darke County and the surrounding communities to find workers, but it isn’t enough to fill the positions. Plus, the rates set by Medicare and Medicaid have limited what Spirit can offer its employees. Hathaway did point out that Ohio will be increasing its Medicaid payments at the beginning of the year and Indiana has already increased what Medicaid will pay. “We can’t just increase our rates of what we are going to charge people for an ambulance ride and suddenly have a great workforce, because that’s not going to work,” Hathaway said.

All of these issues led to Hathaway and Brian Brown, operations manager, going to EMS World two years ago where they learned about the issue Australia was having trying to find positions for its paramedics. They worked with one company for a while and that didn’t pan out and last February they heard about an EMS service in South Carolina that was bringing the first Australians to the United States. Brown and Hathaway met with the Australian recruiter and spent several days with him.

“I’m not a guy that goes to the casino,” said Hathaway. “Bringing Australians to the United States is a gamble and I wanted to make sure that it was a good fit for our organization, it was going to be a good fit to our culture, and it was going to be a good fit for our area.” Having been born and raised in Darke County, Hathaway was confident the community would welcome them.

Hathaway said the cost to bring Australians to the United States on a two-year Work Visa was about the same cost as putting someone through paramedic training. “To me, that sounded like a very good investment. A very good investment that made sure the workforce shortage we are currently experiencing was going to be met. We have wait times of patients now that are waiting on ambulances that can sometimes extend six, 24 or 36 hours to get patients moved to more definitive care.”

Spirit worked to make sure the training the Australians received would be recognized in the United States. Hathaway pointed out the training they receive in Australia to be a paramedic is double what paramedics in the United States receive. In fact, their training is equivalent to a nurse practitioner.

The three Australians have already received their EMT certification and are expected to receive their paramedic certification by the beginning of the year.

“Over the next several weeks you will be seeing them riding on our ambulances as they are getting their required skills and clinical time needed in order to being able to obtain their paramedic certification,” said Hathaway.

One of the Australians opened up about what the opportunity means to them. Kleinekathoefer said, “It is really exciting. We’re used to hot weather in Australia; it’s been a little chilly here, but it’s been exciting. We’re taking it one step at a time.” He said it is a big step for Spirit EMS and a big step for them (Australians). Kleinekathoefer said there about nine universities in Australia, and they are putting out 150 to 200 graduates each year and it can make it difficult for the graduates to find a job with an ambulance service. “When opportunities like this come up, I thought it was a great incentive to take and I took it,” he said.

He admitted it was a big decision to leave family and friends behind but said his family will be traveling to the United States next year. “We’re having to put a little bit of trust in Spirit Medical, as they are in us.”

Kleinekathoefer said he has always been interested in pre-hospital care since he was a kid. He suffers from epilepsy and when he was a kid, he had his first seizure and relied on CareFlight and wanted to pursue that career field.

To contact Daily Advocate Editor Ryan Berry, email [email protected].

No posts to display