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Amid staffing shortages, $50,000 sign on bonuses offered for new Falck paramedics

Facing staffing shortages, the city of San Diego’s ambulance provider, Falck, will offer $50,000 sign-on bonuses for full-time paramedics. The incentive comes ahead of an expected busy season for hospitals.

Falck San Diego’s Managing Director Jeff Behm said he knows staffing levels are not what they promised. It hurts response times, so Falck decided to up its game to attract new paramedics in the city of San Diego.

"It’s a competition because there’s a limited pool — especially in the immediate area around San Diego — so we looked at that and said, 'We need to increase this to get people to come to Falck,'" Behm said.


Previously Falck had offered a $12,000 bonus. The $50,000 sign-on bonus would be spread out over three years. It is larger than the $15,000 bonus offered by their competitor American Medical Response.

"I commend them for upping their recruitment and trying to bring on new personnel," said San Diego Fire-Rescue Chief Colin Stowell. "It might be a little late. We wished this probably would have happened before."

Stowell said attracting new employees will take some time. He also worries about retention of existing employees.

"(Falck has) not been able to bring on the number of people that they need and they have not been able to hold onto employees," Stowell said. "So something has to change internally for Falck to address that."

Anthony Sorci, president of the San Diego Association of Prehospital Professionals, which represents Falck employees, shared the fire chief's concerns.


"To the point that it maybe brings in more people — we feel that's possible — any signing bonus will do that," Sorci said. "Unfortunately it only addresses a handful of new hire paramedics they bring in and it does nothing to address the non-competitive base pay issues that prevent Falck from retaining paramedics in our workforce and that number of deficit paramedics has only grown."

Falck and the association are in the middle of negotiating a new contract. Behm said they hope to do something for current employees. 

"We’re in those discussions to see what can we do," he said.

Since Falck fully took over San Diego’s 911 contract a year ago, they have not yet met their monthly staffing goals. Behm said they need around 30 paramedics to ease the burden on current employees, who are under mandatory overtime.

But Stowell is skeptical that things will turn around soon. He is still planning to present options to San Diego City Council members next month about what to do in the meantime.

"This is a year into the contract — we’re really not getting what we had been promised a year ago," Stowell said. "We’re looking at all avenues of how we can increase the service levels, the ambulances out in the street and get to a more long-term sustainable program."

The association representing Falck employees said 50 paramedics have left in the last year and more could be on their way out. They said the lack of staff has created a large workload for first responders and it is impacting their mental health.

Behm also maintains there are other factors impacting response times aside from staff levels. That includes long hospital turnaround times and higher than expected call volume.

"Not not a good mix," he said.