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Paramedics in paradise: Florida agency has much to offer prospective workers

A hefty relocation bonus and other perks are helping lure new talent

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With its lengthy history of awards, prestigious accreditations and other plaudits, Sunstar is a desirable landing place for ambitious providers.

Sunstar Paramedics

Widespread shortages of EMS providers have created many new opportunities for those willing to move. One of the top agencies in sun-soaked Florida is offering even more reason to consider signing on.

“Prehospital clinicians with a national certification often take pride in being able to work anywhere,” noted Josh Harrington, CCP, BS, a critical care paramedic with Sunstar Paramedics in Pinellas County, Florida. “But truthfully, it’s scary to leave what you know and start over in a new area.”

With its lengthy history of awards, prestigious accreditations and other plaudits, Sunstar is a desirable landing place for ambitious providers. And for Harrington, a recent arrival from out of state, a generous relocation and sign-on bonus helped ease the transition.

Sunstar now offers a $30,000 relocation bonus for paramedics who join up from out of Florida and a $2,000 relocation bonus for those who live in Florida more than 50 miles from the company’s headquarters.

It also offers a welcoming and professional environment that allows young EMS talent to flourish.

“While I was still nervous, Sunstar offered a helping hand at every turn to make sure I was welcomed into the Pinellas County EMS system,” said Harrington, who has been with Sunstar for about a year, with almost eight years overall in firefighting and EMS. “I have already been given the opportunity to join the critical care team as a critical care paramedic, and there are several other pathways and opportunities for special operations and promotions if you want to broaden your scope as a clinician.”

Located on Florida’s west-central coast, Pinellas County’s population as of the 2020 U.S. census was 959,107. It is the state’s seventh-most populous county and most densely populated, with around 3,500 residents per square mile. Florida’s recent population boom has had a major impact in the county.

“Our call volume has gone up exponentially,” said Malachi White, Sunstar Paramedics’ recruiting director, adding the company runs about 700 calls daily, with 600 transports.

“That’s very stressful on our system and the demand as far as recruitment,” he added. “Although there are more people who have moved to this area, it doesn’t necessarily mean we’ve filled all our positions. With the national paramedic shortage, we’re still struggling to get the paramedics we need to do business every day.”

The bonuses are designed to help, and the company offers good pay. White says at $24.04 an hour, he believes Sunstar Paramedics pays more than any other private ambulance company in Florida. In October, there will be $2 pay raises, bringing the rate to more than $26.

Applicants must be nationally registered paramedics to apply and must have their Florida paramedic license before they can start.

Soft skills Sunstar looks for in candidates include “a dependable employee who understands what it means to serve the community,” said White. “Employees that lead with empathy make a difference in our patients’ lives. We need people who have good value systems, understand our mission, vision and values, and can adhere to them and really focus on safety.”

While housing costs may be rising, Florida has no state income tax, and there are very few toll roads in the region, White notes.

Plus … there’s that Florida weather. “There’s a lot to do, especially if someone is into outdoor activities,” White said.

To give Sunstar Paramedics employees the tools they need to be successful, the company trains them in Pinellas County protocols and understanding how the system works. A new paramedic will go through 65 to 75 days of training and about 20 ride-alongs.

“We’re transparent about the protocols so people can see what medications, processes and procedures we use,” said White. “We want everyone to have all the information when they’re making a decision versus getting here and finding out we’re more progressive than they’re used to.”

Sunstar Paramedics is one of the few EMS programs in the country to receive triple accreditation from the Commission on Accreditation of Medical Transport Systems (CAMTS), Commission on Accreditation of Ambulance Services (CAAS), and as an Accredited Center of Excellence (ACE) by the National/International Academies of Emergency Dispatch.

Though the state’s demographics are changing, Florida has long been known for its elderly population. Many of Sunstar’s calls – e.g., stroke and heart attack responses – reflect that. But medics won’t be limited in the types of calls they’ll be getting.

“A lot of private ambulance companies, especially in Florida, do a lot of interfacility transfers and BLS calls, and the fire departments transport the ALS and emergency calls,” said White. “We are a public utility model. We do 100% of the transports in Pinellas County – 911, BLS, mental health, critical care. Basically, anytime a patient is moving, they’re moving in a Sunstar ambulance.”

Sunstar Paramedics also has dedicated vehicle supply technicians, “so when a crew comes off their shifts, they don’t have to restock and wash their ambulance, which is pretty much the norm in EMS,” White said. “When you leave your shift at Sunstar, you grab your bag, turn your stuff in, and someone else will take care of your ambulance and get it ready for the next crew. It’s a great perk for the employees here.”

Additionally, the ambulances are outfitted with Stryker Power-LOAD stretchers.

“It does the heavy lifting for you,” White said. “Having our 95 ambulances outfitted with Stryker Power-LOAD speaks to the commitment the company has to taking care of its employees, boosting morale, and it also helps with worker’s compensation by decreasing patient and employee injuries.”

Sunstar Paramedics’ dispatch is a state-of-the-art facility shared with the regional 911 center.

“All our dispatchers come from one centralized location and are trained and certified to dispatch,” said White. “They have to be EMTs or paramedics, so they know what it’s like to be out in the field. They’re very helpful with our crews and make sure they get the information they need.”

Sunstar also offers career paths to its EMTs and paramedics, paying for EMTs to go through medic school. There also are numerous opportunities for promotion as far as field training officers and preceptors.

“We don’t do a lot of outside hiring for our leadership, so that means there are always opportunities to get professional development as well as promotion at Sunstar,” White said.

Karly Briscoe-Vega started her EMS career more than five years ago working for a private ambulance company in Louisiana and eventually landed at Sunstar. She says her experience has been “nothing less than exciting, motivating and pleasant. Some companies seem to operate better than others, and this is true when it comes to this company. I have had nothing but positive experiences working alongside coworkers, supervisors and supporting agencies.”

Briscoe-Vega says since starting at Sunstar Paramedics, she has been encouraged to push and challenge herself and has since become part of the critical care team as a critical care paramedic alternate. She was also recently promoted to assistant supervisor.

“There’s also a Special Operations Response Team that gets opportunities to work large-scale events and disasters,” she added. “The Pinellas County system may be busy, but I genuinely enjoy working here. I have amazing coworkers. I get to work and live on the beach and enjoy good food. If someone is looking for something exciting, new and with room for advancement, Sunstar may very well be the answer.”

For more information visit Sunstar Paramedics.

Carol Brzozowski is an award-winning freelance journalist and former daily newspaper reporter in South Florida. Her work has been published in more than 200 media outlets.