The county commissioners have restructured the EMS department again, which will return paramedic staffing to the level it was two years ago but freeze the assistant director position.
A few years ago, the county froze two paramedic positions and placed supervisors on ambulances during the day in an effort to save funds. Now the commissioners have agreed to bring back the two positions, which will allow supervisors to return to their supervisory roles during the daytime shift. But the vacant assistant director position will be frozen indefinitely.
It will cost about $3,115 more annually to put two paramedics back on staff and leave the assistant position unfilled, though this could be partially offset by a reduction in overtime. County Manager Rick Morris recommended that option, saying that the risk trumps the budget in this case. The other option was to hire an assistant director and leave the two EMT positions frozen.
In a memo, Morris said of the decision a few years ago, “I think that was the correct decision and a necessary one at that time; however, it did have impacts and consequences to EMS operations, which have been analyzed and monitored quarterly…”
Morris said he supports new EMS Director Greg Collins and Dr. Darrell Nelson, county medical director, in their recommendation that adjustments should be made.
Collins said afterward, “I think it’ll allow us to better serve our citizens.”
He hopes to have the new paramedics in place by April 1st.
The board approved option one, though there was discussion first about removing the assistant director position from the organizational chart altogether. Commissioner Leon Inman’s motion was for Morris’ recommendation, but Board Chairman Ernest Lankford said he would like to remove the assistant director position instead of just freezing it. He said Inman’s motion could be amended, but Commissioner Jimmy Walker argued that only Inman could amend the motion. After further disagreement, the original motion was approved.
The strain put on administrators under the system that has been in place was demonstrated to the commissioners at the Monday night meeting when they had to skip the EMS item and go back to discuss it later because the EMS director was out on a call due to a high call volume and shortage of paramedics.
When Collins arrived at the meeting, he said, “Priority number one is our patients.”
He pointed out that his department has made the system work for a year and a half. He said, “I feel like we have done our part since then.”
He asked the board to freeze the assistant director position, his former job, because he said it is a vital part of the department, which has about 35 employees. As assistant director he handled day-to-day operations and former director Monty Stevens handled emergency management, which is often a separate department in other counties. Now as director with no assistant, Collins handles it all.
“I feel like I’m in the middle of a football field trying to decide which end to run to,” he remarked.
An unintended consequence of the change a few years ago, as stated in Morris’ memo, is that Collins and Training Officer Brian Booe were forced to work an extra 1.5 hours per day during alternating weeks at no extra compensation to keep up with their administrative workloads and the supervisor responsibilities, which include responding as backup with the Life 1 Vehicle.
Inman said it appears the timing is right to make the change back. “It makes sense,” he said.
Lankford said he had a problem with keeping the assistant director position on the organizational chart. He thought it would send the wrong signal to other employees, since with the re-organization there will be two full supervisors.
Commissioner James Booth agreed with option one, but also questioned freezing the position. He said the two supervisors coming off the trucks could be used for the same functions an assistant director would handle.
Walker said he agreed with the county manager’s recommendation. He used the analogy that sometimes going into the grocery store and getting the cheapest item isn’t the best choice.
Commissioner Ronda Jones, “We’ve got to take care of our people.”
Booth commended the department that even with the cuts, Stokes County’s EMS service remained one of the best in the state.
Morris said an item like this would normally be brought up during budget talks, but with the recent changeover in the director position, the item needed to be dealt with now. And there has been turnover in the past few years due to retirements and other departures, which means younger members are on staff and are in need of full supervisors.
According to information presented by Morris, the EMS call volume has increased from 9,167 in 2010 to 9,683 in 2011 and 9,833 in 2012.
Also during the meeting:
• The commissioners moved an item forward to next meeting’s action agenda, though most said they did not think they could support the request at this time. Justin Duncan came before the board during the public comment session to reaffirm his request that the commissioners abandon a portion of Snow Loop Road, pointing out some safety and property concerns. The commissioners agreed that it was a difficult situation.
• The board agreed to add the audit contract for this year to next meeting’s consent agenda. Morris recommended the county remain with its auditor from previous years — Martin Starnes and Associates — which had not proposed an increase. Morris said, “They’ve been doing a very good job for us.”
• The board agreed to add to next meeting’s consent agenda a request to sell several impounded vehicles by private sales since they are cluttering the county’s impoundment lot. The private sale format will save the county from having to tow each vehicle from the impoundment lot to an auction area.
• Personnel with the health department delivered presentations about home health services and the former King health clinic. The discussion was lengthy and will be continued at an upcoming county meeting. The board did approve an external posting for home health positions
The board will meet next on March 4 for a water and sewer project work session at 10 a.m. in the third floor conference room of the main county administrative building. Goals and budget guidance work sessions will be held March 5 at 10 a.m., March 12 at 10 a.m., March 13 at 1 p.m. and March 18 at 1 p.m. The next regular meeting will be held on March 11 at 1:30 p.m.