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By: Cheryl Thurston

Bladen County EMS address Bladen County CommissionersThe Board of Commissioners met on Monday night to discuss the needs of the Emergency Medical Services of Bladen County. As a measure intended to maximize the coverage area of emergency services while minimizing the need to pay overtime wages, the board voted to approve the creation of 3 new full-time positions for EMS workers.

The issues that EMS has been trying to deal with are the area that EMS has to cover and the staff needed to operate all shifts. Chief David Howell had submitted 2 options to the board at a prior meeting, which were (1) to add another service vehicle and 4 employees, which would decrease the response time needed when a call comes in, and/or (2) to add 3 full time positions, which would lessen the dependence on part-time employees. Chief Howell had asked for 3 more employees to ensure coverage for the county at night when the majority of calls come in. Howell has been using some part-time staff, but has run into staffing issues when part-timers (employed from other counties) call out of their shifts because they were able to pick up full shifts their home counties, leaving Howell no choice but to pay full-time Bladen County employees overtime wages to fill in those shifts.

Greg Martin, County Manager, began the conversation about the options available to remedy the existing shortfalls of staffing, and gave the financial figures for the EMS operating costs over the last several years. At the prior meeting, the expense for overtime pay had been challenged to establish necessity. “We need to find a balance between the county’s needs and what the county can pay for,” said Martin.

To add another vehicle and 4 employees, (option 1) would cost the county $152,000 per year. Adding 3 full time employees, (option 2) would cost the county $116,000 per year. Approving both options would address the current coverage and staffing issues but would cost the county an additional $268,000 per year.

Chairperson, Charles Ray Peterson established that Chief Howell currently has 32 full-time employees, but needs 40 to ensure that over-time pay would be unnecessary. Chief Howell stated, “It’s hard for me to sit here and pick and choose what should be done here. I’d like to have both options approved, but I am here serving at the Board’s pleasure, and I don’t know what can be funded, so I’ll take what I can get.

Peterson commented, “We can offer you 3 full-time people now, and we will try to get you the other 5 people you need in the next budget. I suggest you use the full-time people in the busiest areas, and use data driven software to determine where to station the part-time employees in areas of lesser need.”

“From a sustainability standpoint, option 2 allows us to staff the vehicles currently in operation, with minimal use of over-time pay,” said Martin, “and maybe we can find the funding for more in the next budget.”

Commissioner Cogdell made a motion to approve the addition of three new full-time staff members, and Commissioner Bullock seconded the motion. The vote was unanimous in favor of the additions.

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