Panel discusses EMS staffing woes

BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
PCC EDITOR

LEE COUNTY – With less than four months in the books as a county-owned ambulance service, Lee County EMS staffing continues to be an area of concern for officials overseeing the operation.

During a meeting Tuesday of the Lee County Ambulance steering committee, board chairman Jim Steffen said the county may need to look at premium pay to incentivize workers to pick up additional shifts.

He said some health care providers in the area are offering up to as much as $25 per hour to pick up shifts.

He said recently EMS director Dennis Cosby and Director of Operations, Jason Dinwiddie, have been pulling extra duty manning shifts on ambulance rigs.

Steffen said the two should get extra pay for pulling the extra shifts, and that compensated time for the extra shifts isn’t viable because they would never be able to use it.

“I just think it’s unreasonable to expect them to do it for free and it’s not all that reasonable to expect them to do it for comp time because they can’t do it,” Steffen said.

Committee members Denise Fraise said there are many county salaried employees who put in extra time without compensation and that would be something that could come back from other departments who would want extra pay for their staff in the same situation.

“I’m just playing devil’s advocate here. But if we gave them comp time, when are they going to take it,” Fraise said.

Cosby said he wasn’t interested in working every weekend to staff a bunch of shifts despite the extra money.

“I’ve been doing this work for 25 years and while I don’t mind staffing a shift every now and then on a weekend, I certainly don’t want to do it every weekend, even if it is for extra money. That’s not why I got into this position. We actually have to be here in order for the system to work.”

Fraise said the whole thing was a staffing issue.

“That’s how I see it. You don’t have enough people,” she said.

Steffen said the alternative if the department can’t find someone to work a shift is to take an ambulance down, or out of service.

“I don’t think anyone wants that,” he said.

Dinwiddie said he put in 20 extra hours last week helping staff a rig two different days.

Steffen said the two should be paid whatever an EMT would make. He said that would be fair and would be budget-neutral because that money would be being paid anyway.

He said the $25 incentive is a suggestion and is what other health care industries are doing to get people to staff.

Cosby said when the county first took over, they had lots of applications. Now everyone has moved in the same direction with pay and benefits and now everyone is going back and looking at where they can make the most money.

Steffen said it is bad policy for the county not to compensate administrators for picking up shifts.

“You’re not losing any money here. You’re paying them what you would pay me to come in and do that shift. What you’re doing is asking them to work for free. It doesn’t cost you anything, and it’s fair.”

Committee chair Garry Seyb said when it comes to salaried employees, part of that is putting in extra time, but he said putting in extra at the rate Cosby and Dinwiddie are isn’t sustainable.

“Money can be good for a while, but if you’re never home with family and not getting any off time, there is a stress level there that creeps in where now money doesn’t mean anything either,” he said. “We need to look at where we’re at staffing.”

He said the budget next year should be looked at to include the additional staffing to fully staff the department.

Seyb said he’s heard no complaints to-date about the ambulance service.

“I’ve heard nothing but good things about the ambulance. I haven’t heard anything bad up to this point. So congratulations to both of you and your teams.”

Seyb said people did notice that ambulances weren’t always there at football games, but he explained to them the ambulances are there on standby but may have to leave, and people accepted that.

“Congrats on what you’re doing. I understand we’ve got the growing pains we’ve talked about today, but you know what, Lee County Ambulance – you guys are doin’ it,” Seyb said.

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