NC official's proposed EMS staffing change sparks controversy

The conflict arose over a proposal to use existing part-time staff funding and overtime funds to hire a full-time staff for a previously part-time ambulance

By Carter Giergerich 
The Mountaineer

HAYWOOD COUNTY, N.C. — A proposed change in EMS staffing sparked controversy during the Feb. 4 meeting of the Haywood County Board of Commissioners, as Commissioner Mark Pless grilled Emergency Services Director Greg Shuping on a plan to move several part-time EMS employees to full-time status.

The conflict arose over Shuping’s proposal to use existing part-time staff funding, along with additional overtime funds, to fund full-time staff for Medic 7, a previously part-time ambulance under his direction.

“The Board of County Commissioners, a few years ago, approved this ambulance that we call Medic 7 for part-time coverage,” Shuping told the board. “What I mean by that is that we utilize part-time staff to cover that Medic 7 unit. We’ve been successful in staffing that part-time unit only about a third of the time, and the reason for that is the part-time staff. We’ve actually called around to other counties and found that there is a similar challenge.”

Shuping said the staff they have is well-trained and highly capable, but the scheduling for the ambulance creates a litany of problems for the EMS department.

“We have really good part-time staff, and when they’re scheduled months out in advance, of course, they’re able to help us. But some of the short-term coverage is really hard,” Shuping said.

Shuping said EMS was able to staff Medic 7 110 times in the past year out of 277 calls where it could be used, relying on the Haywood County Rescue Squad to fill in the gaps. Commissioner Tommy Long said something needs to be done to fill in those gaps in coverage now that there are questions about the survival of the Rescue Squad. There were concerns, though, about what would be done about the full-time staff if the Rescue Squad recovered.

“We need to make a move right now, because the Rescue Squad has gone kind of kaput,” Long said. “Saying all that, there is some discussion about reviving that if somebody breathes new life into it. Are we going to back out of what we’re proposing to cover that situation, with the Rescue Squad now being defunct?”

In mid-January, The Mountaineer reported that the Haywood County Rescue Squad suspended transport services for patients in nursing homes or the hospital amid mass resignations from the board, two employees being fired and more than 100 service calls that had not been billed.

Shuping said it would be up to the commissioners whether or not they would approve a permanent switch to a full-time model for Medic 7, or make the positions temporary pending the return of the Rescue Squad.

Pless didn’t agree with that sentiment. He said the overtime funds left over in this year’s budget could be used to increase existing full-time employees’ hours, filling the gap without hiring new staff.

“If you have resources left in your overtime budget, why can’t you put people out there and come back for a budget amendment?” Pless said. “Because once you hire people, you can’t unhire them. They’re just there forever. If you have the money to do it out of your overtime budget, then why not?”

Shuping said there are essentially two schedules for EMS employees currently — some staff members work a schedule that puts them at 2,286 hours for the year, and others work a more-demanding 2,968-hour schedule. By contrast, a typical 40-hour-a-week employee would work 2,080 hours in a typical year. Shuping said most of the employees already working the 2,286-hour schedule wouldn’t be interested in shouldering the additional hours.

“What we’d be asking folks to do, who already have a schedule of 2,286 hours, is to work 700 more hours per year. That’s not a schedule that they really want to work,” Shuping said.

Pless suggested the EMS staff work the hours anyway.

“They’re not here to work the schedule they want — they’re here to work the schedule that meets the needs of our county,” Pless said.

He also suggested that Shuping himself and other higher-level staff at the department could pick up the slack until the future of the Rescue Squad comes into clearer focus.

“You have yourself, Travis (Koonce), Mike Street and a trainer position that are all paramedics — all four of you,” Pless said. “They’re salaried, Monday through Friday from 9 to 5. Why can’t you split, with two of them running the ambulance Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday and two on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday?”

Shuping advised the board against pulling administrative staff out of the office to run calls on a regular basis as it could potentially impact the ability of other crews to do their jobs properly.

“We do utilize our support staff and work in the office on these calls as much as we can,” Shuping said. “But when we outrun our logistics, we will fail. It’s up to you, but I’m not sure it’s a good idea to not have folks to do those processes that you depend on on a daily basis.”

The board ultimately voted 4-1, with Pless as the lone dissenting vote, to approve the request to bring on the full-time employees, contingent on discussions about the future of the Rescue Squad and plans for its potential impact.

Copyright 2019 The Mountaineer

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