Central EMS committee mulls budget increase, staff pay and workload

Posted: November 24, 2017 at 1:08 a.m.

NWA Democrat-Gazette/DAVID GOTTSCHALK Felicia Young (right) and Reva McGourty, both dispatchers with Central EMS, answer calls Tuesday in the dispatch area of Station One in Fayetteville. A draft proposal for the regional ambulance service will raise the expenditures by more than $1 million for next year. The plan is to hire nine more employees and get a new ambulance, but some executive committee members wonder if those new positions should be postponed to pay for pay raises. Central EMS underpays its paramedics and EMTs by about 6 percent compared with surrounding competitors.

FAYETTEVILLE -- Central EMS officials want a 2018 budget that recruits and retains emergency workers. The key is to pay employees a competitive rate and reduce their heavy workload, said Steve Harrison, assistant chief.

"It's kind of a balancing act," he said.

Ambulance coverage

Central Emergency Medical Service covers 920 square miles in Washington County, including Fayetteville, Elkins, Farmington, Goshen, Greenland, Lincoln, Prairie Grove, Tontitown, Johnson, West Fork and Winslow. The service doesn’t cover Springdale.

Source: Staff report

The Washington County Regional Ambulance Authority placed employee retention and recruitment as its No. 1 priority during a meeting in September. The Executive Committee agreed, but some members differ on whether to emphasize pay raises or workload reduction by hiring more employees.

"I don't want to wear them out," said Glenn Morgan, committee member.

The number of emergency calls have grown -- meaning more work for less pay than some other agencies, Chief Becky Stewart said.

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Call volume at Central EMS went up nearly 4 percent from 2014 to 2015 and 12 percent last year. That large increase mostly occurred because service was expanded into areas Springdale stopped serving, but it's also linked to a growing and aging population, Stewart said.

Call volume is expected to rise to 14,518 calls, about 2 percent, next year over this year.

Employees go to about six calls per 12-hour shift, a higher amount than similar ambulance services, Stewart said. Turnover at the ambulance service is running about 17 percent this year, Harrison said.

Expenditures this year are about $100,000 over budget, mostly because of overtime costs, Central EMS officials said.

The workload could be eased by adding an ambulance and hiring about nine emergency technicians, six paramedics, one mechanic and one patient account representative, according to the 2018 budget proposal. The changes would be part of expenditures pushing the budget to $12 million, up from $11.4 million this year.

Central EMS pay lags about 6 percent behind the market on average, according to a Job Evaluation and Salary Administration Program report released by Johanson Group, a management consulting agency, this month.

Central EMS competes with local fire departments, hospitals and private ambulance services for emergency medical technicians and paramedics. Those agencies often pay more, according to the report.

An emergency technician position at Central EMS starts at $30,206 compared with $44,038 in Springdale, the report shows. A paramedic starts at $44,537 at Central EMS and $50,043 in Springdale.

On top of that, to train a medical technician to become a paramedic costs Central EMS about $85,000, Stewart said.

The proposed budget includes a 6 percent merit raise and a salary range adjustment, accounting for a $600,000 increase in wages next year. Even with that, Central EMS will continue to be behind, said Blair Johanson, employee management consultant during a committee meeting this month.

Central EMS emergency workers are meeting response-time goals, David Dayringer, executive committee chairman and Fayetteville Fire Department chief, said in email. Central EMS could postpone buying the new ambulance and staff and funnel money to more pay, he said.

"It looks like we could maintain the good numbers without adding an additional ambulance and crew in 2018," Dayringer said. "The ambulance authority wages need to be very competitive in our region with new clinics and hospitals coming on line. We don't want to lose our good personnel to other medical agencies."

The Executive Committee plans to decide on the budget and pay increases during its regular meeting Dec. 20.

NW News on 11/24/2017