EMS update 01

Greenwood County EMS Director Derek Oliver said the county has hired six people into the department since launching its recent incentives programs, but filling vacant positions has still been a challenge.

Hiring hasn’t been easy for Derek Oliver, director of Greenwood County Emergency Medical Services.

The department has hired six new people since August, when county council approved a paid incentives program for new hires and existing staff. Despite that, there are still six EMT positions and four paramedic roles open, and Oliver said he’s working to find ways to get more people on ambulance shifts.

The incentive plan offered a $10,000 sign-on bonus, paid out in timed installments across two years, for full-time employees hired on or after July 1 in EMS and at the Greenwood County Detention Center. It also offered a $5 per hour premium overtime rate, along with retention stipends and a recruitment incentive for current employees.

“It didn’t quite work the way I’d hoped it would, and I don’t think it’s anything to do with Greenwood County,” Oliver said.

He said he expected the incentive program to bring in a wave of new applications, but it seems the pool of interested candidates isn’t that big. Potential candidates have a lot of options when it comes to EMS departments seeking staff, and many people who have expressed interest in the job live further away and the distance has posed a problem.

“We just need to get people in the workforce, that’s the problem. I still believe eventually we’ll fix this problem, and I hope all services will be able to fix it so staff is not an issue. We’re hoping to grow our own.”

He said he’s working on a project to recruit and hire students studying to be emergency medical technicians.

“We’re going to set up our classroom with our equipment, and they can come learn on it when they’re not in class,” he said.

Currently the biggest hiring challenge is finding people who want to work as an EMT. It’s an entry-level position, but Oliver said EMTs often go on to become paramedics or pursue jobs in other medical fields. A previous adjustment to the EMS department’s pay scales in October 2020 helped bring in paramedics.

Being short-staffed has had an impact on response times. Over the past year, Oliver said the average response time has stretched to about 15 minutes — seven minutes longer than his goal.

The time it takes to respond to a call changes day by day, and EMS uses priority dispatch to ensure they’re responding to the most life-threatening call first at any given time. Heavy call volume does cause delays, but Oliver said supervisors have stepped in to run calls when crews are tied up, and staff members have been working extra shifts.

“Delays happen, but it’s not a constant thing,” he said.

COVID-19 especially has introduced factors that cause delays. After transporting a patient with COVID-19 or a suspected case, staff members have to spray and decontaminate the cab of their ambulance to avoid spreading the illness. At times when Self Regional Medical Center’s emergency room was packed with patients, ambulance crews had to wait to release a patient into hospital care.

“We’re in a chaotic time,” Oliver said. “There’s times when we’ll go down there and there’s five ambulances in that emergency bay.”

It’s no fault of hospital staff, he said, as they have to prioritize critical care too. Supervisors respond to calls when ambulances are busy at the hospital, and EMS works with county and city firefighters to respond to some calls as well.

Oliver said he’s proud of his staff — they’re working hard hours and making personal sacrifices to provide emergency medical service for all of Greenwood County. He knows they’re tired, and said he’s trying to find ways to fill the 10 remaining openings.

“They don’t hesitate to go into their calls knowing someone could be carrying a disease that could spread in so many ways,” he said. “It’s an overwhelming situation, and we just need more people to make that sacrifice.”

Contact staff writer Damian Dominguez at 864-634-7548 or follow on Twitter @IJDDOMINGUEZ.

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