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story.lead_photo.caption NWA Democrat-Gazette/FILE PHOTO A Central EMS ambulance returns to headquarters on South School in Fayetteville.

FAYETTEVILLE -- Central EMS will give raises to employees, focus on training and hire new employees to reduce the workload, executive committee members decided.

About 77 employees will get a 6.2 percent raise next year, plus an additional 1 percent raise for certain positions. The ambulance service also plans to hire six people, officials said.

Central EMS

Central EMS covers 920 square miles, including 11 cities: Fayetteville, Elkins, Farmington, Goshen, Greenland, Lincoln, Prairie Grove, Tontitown, Johnson, West Fork and Winslow. The ambulance service also covers University of Arkansas facilities, over 30 miles of Interstate 540 and all rural areas of Washington County. Central EMS does not serve Springdale.

Source: Central EMS website

"This is a big step in the right direction," said Steve Harrison, Central EMS deputy chief.

The ambulance service's executive committee tweaked and approved the 2018 budget Dec. 20. Employees will see the increase in their pay in January, Chief Becky Stewart said.

Central EMS is the advanced life support ambulance service for Washington County, except Springdale. The service is partially funded by 11 member cities and patient charges.

Minimal staff, high workloads and low pay have been concerns among Central EMS employees, Harrison and Stewart said. The Washington County Regional Ambulance Authority said earlier this year employee retention and recruiting are priorities.

Turnover at the ambulance service has been about 17 percent this year, officials said.

Pay at Central EMS was about 6 percent behind the market on average, according to a report released in November by the Johanson Group, a management consulting agency.

"We've always been behind the market, comparative to the people around us," Harrison said.

Employees also go to about six calls per 12-hour shift, a higher number than many similar ambulance services, Stewart said.

Central EMS will hire enough employees for three emergency medical technicians and three paramedic technicians, Harrison said. Depending on call volume, that could mean less overtime and more people to handle calls, he said.

The committee also set aside $125,000 specifically for paramedic training meant to create a pipeline for the ambulance service.

Central EMS will focus on training existing employees and promoting from within, Harrison said. The first cohort should finish the new Northwest Arkansas Community College's paramedic program in 2019, Stewart said.

To pay for the raises and more training, the committee decided to put off hiring for six other new positions, Harrison said. Hiring the new staff for the ambulance would have cost $223,000.

The salary increase for all employees had already been set aside, but the additional 1 percent pay raise, meant to address salary compression, was added Dec. 20. That change costs $57,000, Harrison said. Salary compression happens when only a small difference in pay exists between employees regardless of skill or experience.

The 2018 budget has about $50,000 that remains unappropriated in the $12 million budget.

NW News on 12/27/2017

Print Headline: Central EMS boosts pay, training, plans new hires

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