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Shift changes approved

WINDSOR – In an effort they hope will not only allow them to retain more of their current Emergency Medical Services (EMS) personnel, but also leave room for needed expansion, the Bertie County Board of Commissioners at their January meeting approved a schedule change that limits the number of work days from eight per month to seven per month.

County EMS Director Mitch Cooper says the move will significantly reduce both overtime expenditures and part-time salaries.

In a presentation before the Commissioners, Cooper told the Board no new funding would be required for the current fiscal year (2015-16), and costs could be absorbed through the current department appropriation.

“Our Sundays are entirely part-time staffing,” said Cooper. “They come from other counties and other ambulance services; and we’re seeing more and more challenges trying to fill that part-time day.”

Cooper said filling the slots with full-time EMS staffers causes his department to have to spend more on overtime.

“We want to look at a more fluid schedule to make sure that seven days a week we’re covered 100 percent,” Cooper added.

Cooper says there is enough money within the county’s current EMS budget to support the change. He said if the implementation is delayed until the 2016-17 budget, there would be an increase of $77,735, but that if the changes take place within this fiscal year the extra expense could be absorbed within the department’s existing appropriation.

Several of the current EMT’s have completed Paramedic training, and some others are nearing completion. All would be due salary increases with their additional certification.

“After looking at what it would cost to do their pay-bump, plus pay for their overtime,” Cooper stated, “it would be more than the $77,000 it would cost to adjust the shifts and move forward.”

Cooper says under the county’s system, every EMS call is answered by a Paramedic, no matter the day, the situation or the circumstances. He noted that so many of the part-timers are working additional hours that soon the department would hit a cap where these workers would have to be offered benefits, same as full-time personnel.

“And that’s something that’s going to increase our current cost now and move it forward,” he noted. “Cost-wise, our costs are going to continue to go up,”

Under the proposed system, Cooper says not only would overtime decrease, but it would also allow for the addition of nine more staffers. He pointed out that there’s been a savings to his budget this year because of the non-use of some personnel, and that next year, with promotions, certifications, and upgrades; the increase for 2016-17 will be at, or above, the $77,000 projection.

Some of the Commissioners wanted to know if there would be part-time and overtime spending in addition to raises that certainly would come with certification.

Cooper said another benefit to the monthly pay period would be allowing for staffers to switch days.

“We’re not paying anybody any more overtime, any more part-time, because swapping days does not mean looking for more people, but that the current personnel could fill the void,” Cooper answered. “I don’t want you to feel you’re short-staffing your part-time employees.”

Cooper said there have been over 16 transports in just the first three days of 2016.

“We’re trying to figure out now how we’re going to staff a part-time truck to keep up with the call volume because of the growth of our (non-emergency transports),” he said.

Cooper said it’s better to use part-timers for non-emergency transports (NET’s) so that the county’s 911 service is fulfilled 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

County Manager Scott Sauer interjected that the EMS Cadet Program offered by Bertie County Schools will graduate its first class in August of 2016 and adding these grads to the department will help fulfill some of the hiring objectives.

“They’ve shown a real willingness to want to go on to advanced Paramedic training and have shown an interest in Bertie County and wanting to be a part of our EMS agency,” Cooper said.

Commissioner Ron Wesson said that while the county wants to, and should, hire the most qualified candidates, he would like to see an increase in minority staffing within the department.

“We need to take advantage of what functions best for us as a county,” Cooper replied.

Cooper said he has to balance running as many EMS calls as the department can with availability and time for his personnel.

“There’s going to be that incident where there’s going to be another tornado, or the incident of a bus accident,” he said. “We have to plan for that worst-case scenario in the middle of the night and this new schedule will allow for that.”

Cooper said the department has only spent 43 percent of its salary budget because of the constraint of Sundays.

He added that the new schedule would make Bertie competitive with other area counties as far as retention of employees. He said he’d lost two members to Northampton County and two to Gates.

“Back in the fall we were running about a 50 percent turnover rate for Paramedic,” Cooper said, “Whereas other counties were running this schedule and while the salaries were the same, the hours were different and that was more appealing, and they were pulling from us. I don’t think we’re going to have any losses from this (new) schedule; it’ll actually be a benefit to us. We’re going to need that experience to be more competitive.”

Cooper said the new schedule is pretty common across North Carolina. He added that for NET’s, Bertie has put on a 12-hour ALS (advanced life-saving) truck to run transfers out of Vidant Bertie Hospital. He further stated that when the financial audit is done later in February it will show that the county did $150,000 in collections for transport.

“If we stay on that target we’ll surpass what our revenue projections were,” he admitted. “We got a lot more calls for transport because we’re at the Paramedic level. This is something we can use; somebody who’s qualified and knows what they’re doing.”

After discussion, Wesson made a motion to approve the schedule change, seconded by Vice-Chairman Ernestine Byrd Bazemore, and passed unanimously.

“I’ll let you know exactly when we plan to implement this,” Cooper concluded. “It’ll take some time to build it and get it in place.”