By Cameron Judd – Staff Writer – The Greenville Sun
The ranks of those who respond to emergency medical calls in Greene County is depleting fast because of low pay, the Greene County Emergency Medical Services director told the Greene County-Greeneville EMS Board Thursday afternoon.
“We’ve got a great staff, and we’re losing them,” EMS Director Calvin Hawkins said after telling the board that two more first responders left EMS this week, and more are planning to quit.
One of two EMS responders who serve as non-voting liaison members of the EMS board said he plans to leave EMS unless the situation improves.
With emergency medical technicians starting at $8.21 an hour and paramedics starting at $9.76, EMS first responders find they can make better money working in even basic private sector jobs that lack the danger and stress involved in emergency rescue work, Hawkins and Operations Manager T.J. Manis reported.
Others who depart the agency take jobs with similar squads in neighboring cities and counties, where pay is higher, Manis said. One who left within the past week, Hawkins said, took a similar job in Washington County that starts his pay at $10 an hour.
Further, the board was told, Greene County EMS workers who are leaving typically are not newcomers to the agency, but veteran employees. A list was presented of eight responders who have recently left EMS and their years of individual experience.
Combined, their years of experience totaled 105.
“And these aren’t the end of the story,” Hawkins said. “We’ve got others who are ready to go.”
Morale is low, the EMS leaders reported, because of the low pay and the fact that the Greene County Commission is looking at possibly passing a budget for the next fiscal year that cut about $400,000 from the budget request Hawkins put forward.
“The employees feel like the county doesn’t care about us,” said Emergency Medical Technician Rex Johnson, one of the two non-voting representatives of the EMS responder ranks who sits in with the board.
He and paramedic Jeff Johnson, the other non-voting EMS board representative (the two Johnsons are not related), openly challenged EMS board member Eddie Jennings, one of the county commissioners who voted in favor of the EMS budget request reduction, to explain why he had done so.
“I don’t know if I should say this or not, but I think there was a little spite in it,” Jennings said. “I made the remark (at the commission meeting) that EMS could come back to the commission if they needed something, and we could give it to them.”
After the meeting concluded, he clarified that the “spite” was not on his part, but on that of those who first advanced the possibility of the reduction.
The proposal to reduce the requested amount came from county commissioners who are not on the EMS board. Jennings, who often is at odds with other commissioners, said he perceived that as an effort to spite him as a board member who has worked to “build up” EMS in recent years.
Jennings said his thought was to respond by going along with the reduction request on the front end while remaining ready to support EMS in future budget adjustments as needs arise in the agency during the coming fiscal year.
At Thursday’s meeting, Jennings said it is not fair that EMS struggles to have an adequate staff of responders when, he said, he knows of cases of county departments being over-budgeted for the number of employees they actually have on the job.
As EMS struggles to keep up its roster of employees, it manages to work within its budget and even return money to Greene County at the end of its budget year, its leaders said at the Thursday meeting.
Figures provided by EMS at the meeting showed that, in the 2015-2017 fiscal year, EMS spent just under $3.5 million out of an approved budget of just over $4 million, and actually generated nearly $4.5 million in revenues.
Those extra revenues are not used to directly meet EMS needs, but must be turned back into the county fund balance.
Jennings told Hawkins that EMS “is doing one hell of a job,” and that he now receives no complaint calls about the agency as compared to earlier years when complaints, he said, were frequent.
The EMS board took no actions Thursday due to lack of a quorum, so all items were presented for discussion only.
Board members present were Chuck Whitfield, Jennings and County Mayor David Crum, though Crum is not a voting member. The two EMS liaison members who were present also are not voting members.