‘Stop the bleeding': Ky. city, county struggle with declining EMS staffing
Somerset city officials are told employees are leaving for better pay and less calls
By Carla Slavey
SOMERSET, Ky. — The number of employees with Somerset-Pulaski EMS who have left for better positions elsewhere has gotten so bad that David Sparks told Somerset City Council Monday, “We’ve got to figure out something to stop the bleeding.”
Sparks, a member of the Somerset-Pulaski EMS Advisory Board, said that employees are leaving the department for jobs that pay higher wages and have fewer runs per day.
That’s leaving those who stay the local EMS service overworked and tired.
“We’re down currently 11 employees,” Sparks told the council. "...That’s getting to a critical situation. A couple of times in the last few months, we’ve had only two crews available for the entire county.”
He added that certain runs, such as cardiac arrests, may require two crews to respond. Should that happen on a day in which only two trucks are available, then it would leave no personnel for the rest of the county should a second emergency arise.
Sparks also noted that EMS Chief Steven Eubank had himself been working on trucks to fill in.
Sparks said that other agencies are paying anywhere from $2 to $6 more per hour. And some surrounding counties average five to six runs per day, where Pulaski averages 36 or 37 runs per day.
Mayor Alan Keck said he understood the critical personnel situation, but noted that the city isn’t the only government that should be looking into the problem.
“The city of Somerset is putting as much or more money into this department as the county, and we’re less than 20 percent of the population. ... We can’t do much more,” Keck said.
He noted some of the tasks Somerset has taken on to bolster EMS over the last few years, including the $750,000 renovation of the EMS building, purchasing new equipment and new trucks, and giving out raises, including the recently-approved shift differential for weekend workers.
Keck also noted, “We’re one of the only departments in the region that has hazardous duty. ... Hazardous duty retirement costs the city about 25% more per hour than a non-hazardous position,” meaning the city puts more into EMS personnel retirement costs.
EMS personnel also get their health insurance through the city, which provides full-family insurance, Keck stated.
In recent weeks, Pulaski County Government has had several discussions over its current insurance policy, which provides full insurance for all county employees, but requires them to pay larger rates for families.
Keck said that while he has had discussions with Somerset’s Chief Financial Officer Mike Broyles to try to find more money in the budget for EMS, Keck believes the long-term solution is going to have to come from the city and county governments working together.
“The solution likely needs to be a special taxing district,” Keck said. “Something where the entire county is participating in a higher taxing level, where it’s independent of city and county politics and there’s no dependency on elections or infighting or whatever fiscal court or city council may say. It would cost folks in Pulaski County and Somerset a little more each year, but it would guarantee that service is funded and funded long term.”
Sparks said he agreed, and that he had presented that option to Pulaski Fiscal Court at a previous meeting.
But when asked how he felt the information was received, Sparks said, “My response is that went over like a lead ballon.”
Council member Amanda “Bean” Bullock , who also serves on the EMS advisory board, said that a special taxing district would mean taxpayers paying more, but it would also lower the amount someone would pay when calling an ambulance for help.
“It is a little bit (more) from everybody, but as it stands now, it’s dangerous to exist in Pulaski County ,” stated Bullock. “When you’ve got two ambulances. ... not only are you maybe not going to get an ambulance, you’re going to get someone who’s overworked, tired, Lord knows when the last time they slept was. They are doing their absolute best.”
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