Athens County EMS Looking At Staffing Issues

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The chief of Athens County Emergency Medical Services plans to present a proposal soon to the county commissioners for making more of the EMS staffing full time.

The goal would be to reduce overtime costs and add more stability to scheduling, said Chief Rick Callebs.

Athens County EMS has 34 full-time employees, but each month has to cover 1,440 work hours with part-time workers, according to Callebs, and that doesn’t include calling in part-timers to fill in for full-time employees who are on vacation, sick or can’t work for some other reason. Athens County EMS uses paramedics and emergency medical technicians, and operates five stations.

Relying on part-time employees creates some issues because many have other full-time or even multiple part-time jobs. Finding someone willing and able to work at a specific time can sometimes be difficult.

“This is not to bash the part-time people,” Callebs said. “By and large they are great people.”

Many just have other commitments for their time.

“We’ve never had an issue where we had to shut a truck down. … But it’s getting pretty thin,” Callebs said. “It’s just not an effective way to staff our stations.”

When a part-time worker can’t be found to cover a shift, a full-time worker is called in and paid overtime.

“It seems like a reoccurring issue,” County Commissioner Chris Chmiel said of the scheduling and overtime problems. Chmiel said he would be receptive to hearing a proposal to upgrade some of the part-time positions to full time.

“It sounds logical to me,” Chmiel said.

In an attempt to lessen overtime costs, a policy change was adopted so that the minimum of 24 hours per month that part-time employees are required to work was increased to 48. The switch has not yet gone into effect, but so far four part-timers have resigned because of the upcoming change.

Since January of 2011, Athens County EMS has lost 24 employees, and 18 of those were working part-time when they left county employment, according to figures provided by Athens County EMS. Ten of the 24 left to go to full-time jobs elsewhere, Callebs said.

At this week’s county commissioners’ meeting, Commissioner Charlie Adkins said the county might need to look at increasing the pay scale to retain employees.

“We’ve got to look at our budget, of course,” Adkins said.

Callebs said adding more full-time staff will make scheduling easier and reduce overtime. The number of people working at the stations would not increase, just more of them would be full time.

The added cost would be the additional salary above what the employees were earning when they worked part time, plus the cost of benefits. Some of that should be offset by savings in overtime, Callebs said.

Callebs hasn’t decided the specifics of what he will recommend — how many positions would be increased to full time, and whether it would be phased in.

“We haven’t crunched all our numbers and come up with a best-case scenario,” Callebs said.

He noted that EMS has other demands on its funding, including ambulance replacement and the need to replace or upgrade the Athens station.