SC EMS looks to end 24-hour shifts with new hires
The city has included 15 more EMS workers in the budget; currently those with the least seniority work 24 hours followed by 48 hours off; the rest are on duty for two 12-hour days followed by two days off
By Prentiss Findlay
The Post and Courier
CHARLESTON, S.C. — About 25 percent of Charleston County paramedics and emergency medical technicians work grueling 24-hour shifts.
"It can be difficult because of the exhaustion," said Emergency Medical Services Director Don Lundy.
That type of scheduling will end if County Council approves $700,000 for 15 more EMS first responders.
On Thursday, the Council Finance Committee voted 5-1 in favor of a new $431.6 million county budget that includes funding for added EMS personnel.
The 2015 budget, which starts July 1, does not raise taxes although it appropriates $1.9 million more for personnel.
Revenue from an improving economy makes it possible to create 30 new county positions, said Administrator Kurt Taylor
Additional staff will be added at the coroner, building inspections and human resources, according to a budget summary.
The current county work force is 2,442.
Lundy told the Finance Committee, which is comprised of all Council members, that adding EMS crews does not guarantee shorter response times.
"It will mean safer crews that are not necessarily exhausted after the 23rd hour," he said.
With the 15 new hires, EMS will have 168 paramedics or EMTs, and an overall budget of $12.9 million.
EMS personnel with the least seniority currently work 24 hours followed by 48 hours off. The rest are on duty for two 12-hour days followed by two days off, Lundy said.
If new EMS staff is hired, the 24-hour shifts will end, he said.
EMS receives 57,000 calls per year, and the department has been recognized nationally for its efficiency, he said.
Overall, the new budget is $3 million more than the current one, according to a financial summary.
Councilman Joe Qualey questioned $225,000 for the Gibbes Museum of Art. The county gave the museum $25,000 in each of the previous two budgets. The funds are for renovation and expansion, officials said.
"Does anybody give this money besides us?" he said.
Qualey also had concerns about increasing the county allocation to the Charleston Area Convention & Visitors Bureau from $1.2 million to $1.8 million.
"Is it going to make a difference? That's my question. The accommodations tax money can be used for other things. We should scrutinize this," he said.
In the new budget, operating costs are up $2.5 million because of increased expenses for facility and technology upkeep, fuel, vehicle maintenance and the animal shelter, officials said.
Capital and one-time expenditures are down $2.2 million due to fewer vehicle/equipment replacements and information technology upgrades, the county said.
Qualey voted no to the new spending plan. Voting yes were Herb Sass, Teddie Pryor, Anna Johnson, Dickie Schweers and Henry Darby. Vic Rawl, Colleen Condon and Elliott Summey were absent.
Approval of the budget requires three Council votes scheduled for May 29 and June 3 and June 17. A public hearing on the budget is scheduled for 6 p.m. on June 3 in the Council Committee Room at the Lonnie Hamilton Public Services Building at 4045 Bridge View Drive in North Charleston.
Full details of the new budget are posted online at http://www.charlestoncounty.org/departments/Budget/budget4.htm