Fit-for-duty testing proposed for SC EMS agency's personnel

Functional capacity evaluations would be done in pre-employment process and annually to reduce workers compensation claims


By Christina Cleveland
Aiken Standard

AIKEN, S.C. — Aiken County is looking to implement a pilot program to test its EMS workers and ensure they are fit for duty, which County officials said would benefit employees, residents and could also save the County thousands.

The pilot program would be for County employees and would include EMS, paramedics and the Hazmat team.

Through the program, nearly 80 EMS workers would receive functional capacity evaluations, meaning they would be tested on their strength, ability, cardiovascular fitness and endurance for performing the work they’re required to do on the job, Aiken County Human Resource Director Gayle Wolman said during a committee meeting ahead of this month’s County Council meeting.

Wolman called it a “mini test,” around 20 to 30 minutes.. While they’re being tested, their hearts and respiration also would be monitored.

“You can’t fake it,” she said. “So if in 10 to 15 minutes, you’re showing physical signs of stress, you’re physically not fit for duty.”

Wolman told the committee the idea is to help the County in the pre-employment process but also down the line, to help with risk management and workers compensation claims. Last year, the HR director said the County had eight workers compensation claims within a period of six months – three that were for backs, and two of the workers were out for six months.

“That’s a big price tag,” Wolman said. “So we believe, as a pilot program, this might be a way to try out another methodology for both screening hearts and also managing them on annual basis and to make sure people that stay fit while they’re here.”

Assistant County Administrator Andrew Merriman said at the meeting the County is hoping to save around $15,000 a year with the program.

“This is an effort to save money and the bottom line is that it would be beneficial to Aiken County,” he said. “… Our current health care screening process has some glaring holes and so the idea is to start the pilot program to better vet those people that are in the field.”

Wolman told Council members the Aiken County Sheriff’s Office has annual physical fitness tests they must pass, but EMS does not currently have something similar in place.

EMS workers complete a physical and there are two sets of medical information provided to the County – a self disclosure form and the doctor’s visit, she said.

For the program, the County will next move to the procurement process, Merriman told the Aiken Standard on Wednesday.

“The first step is going to find and vet the private-sector providers for this kind of screening. It’s not something we’re prepared to do in house,” he said, adding some possible providers have been identified.

To create the test, a ride-a-long would be completed and the County’s medics would be followed around for a 24-hour period on their trucks to determine aspects like how many steps they take, how many times they lift and the weight they lift.

If EMS workers do not pass the examination, the County would work with a nurse to put them on a health improvement plan, Merriman said.

“We’ve got to honor the employees rights, too, and give them the opportunity to rectify,” he said during the committee meeting. “… It would be annual. You’ve got one year from the day of failure to show significant improvement and then show improvement along the way to show you can get to a point where you can do those things.”

Officials are hoping for an August implementation but because if it doesn’t work is a pilot program, it could be dropped or replaced.

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©2016 the Aiken Standard (Aiken, S.C.)

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