Looking to increase your ranks? Improve providers’ work-life balance

Rutherford County EMS Director Carl Hudgens obtained county commissioner and mayoral support for progressive recruitment strategies


This article was originally posted in the Oct. 8, 2021 Paramedic Chief Leadership Briefing. To get more leadership content delivered to your inbox, sign up for Paramedic Chief today

Rutherford County (Tenn.) Emergency Medical Services (RCEMS) recently made the move to 24/72 scheduling for AEMTS and paramedics to promote a better work-life balance.

“We saw an opportunity to step out as one of the first EMS departments in the country to move to this shift with the main goal of providing our employees ample time between shifts to decompress,” RCEMS Director, Carl Hudgens, noted.  

RCEMS is the primary ALS provider for the County of Rutherford, funded by property taxes. EMS operations include 14 transport units operated from 12 locations around the county, staffed with a minimum of one EMT-paramedic and one advanced EMT. Each shift is assigned a captain and a lieutenant, responsible for daily operations and also available to respond to calls in an ALS-equipped 4x4 vehicle.

RCEMS Director, Carl Hudgens, surveyed employees to determine which schedule best fit their busy lives.
RCEMS Director, Carl Hudgens, surveyed employees to determine which schedule best fit their busy lives. (Rutherford County EMS)

Letting providers weigh in

Hudgens explained the previous 24 hours on, 48 hours off shifts were not allowing personnel to effectively balance their time between work and life responsibilities. Noticing exhaustion in his providers, particularly during the pandemic, Hudgens began brainstorming with his team for a solution.

“Employees are the heart and soul of the department,” Hudgens told EMS1. “They work tirelessly to serve the community, are expected to decompress for a day, and spend whatever time they have left before returning to shift with their families.”

However, when employees are well rested during their time off, they perform better, and their time spent with family improves as well, Hudgens noted. It was important to him that employees were given the opportunity to weigh in. The leadership team deployed a survey, giving personnel a choice between 24 hours on, 72 ours off; or four 12-hour days with four days off. Employees overwhelmingly (almost 85%) selected the 24/72 schedule.

Stakeholder stewardship and support

Cultivating good relationships with key stakeholders and policymakers is crucial in obtaining buy-in to support a change like the one RCEMS undertook. In Hudgens’ case, this meant working with county commissioners, the mayor and the finance director. “My staff and I worked for months to develop a proposal before approaching the mayor and Public Safety Committee,” he said. “We are fortunate for their support.” Hudgens noted it’s imperative to have their support, but it’s also beneficial to be able to prove that their support is well placed by being a good steward of the program.

County Commissioners voted to move to the shift change effective July 1, 2021. Mayor Bill Ketron’s request to give employees a 4% pay increase was also approved. RCEMS employees, if eligible, could receive up to a 5.75% pay increase.

Mayor Ketron voiced his support in a statement, noting, “We have some of the best first responders in the state of Tennessee; I happen to think some of the best in the country! We want to ensure that we are providing them with benefits that positively impact their careers and families respectively.”  

Attracting qualified candidates

With EMS departments across the country experiencing a shortage of personnel and qualified applicants, Hudgens and RCEMS staff are hoping additional benefits and these new changes will draw a diverse group of qualified candidates to serve Rutherford County.

“In addition to the upcoming shift change, we provide our personnel with excellent benefits including insurance and retirement, adequate personal time off and multiple opportunities for advancement,” commented Hudgens. “There are other future progressive changes in the works as well.”

The department recently issued a recruitment video in an effort to attract new candidates.

RCEMS will measure the success of the news schedule through employee retention rates, organization morale and, most importantly, direct feedback from employees.

“At RCEMS, our employees and their families are extremely important to us and we want to make sure we’re taking care of our own so that they can be who they need to be when it’s time to go home each day,” Hudgens concluded.

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