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Labor shortage hurts EMS

Loperfido cites part-time pay as one issue

Jeremy D. Wells
Carter County Times

Payroll makes up more than 70 percent of the Carter County Emergency Ambulance Service’s budget. Executive director Rick Loperfido says that, when compared to other surrounding areas, Carter County pays better than most – only Boyd County pays more when you also consider contributions to insurance and retirement. But, despite this, the ambulance service is understaffed.

Loperfido told the ambulance board that while he has two full-time EMTs and one part-time EMT testing for their paramedic license this month, it isn’t going to do much to help the service. While they are currently down one full-time paramedic and one full-time EMT, moving either or both of the full-time EMTs into the paramedic slot will still leave the service short-staffed when it comes to EMTs. Part-time employees are especially needed, he told the board, because they utilize part-time staff to help keep overtime costs down. But with other services offering more in hourly rates – Portsmouth ambulance offers up to $20 an hour – Loperfido said they are having a hard time finding folks who are willing to commit.

It’s an issue that is concerning for EMT staff too. Several staff members have reached out to the Carter County Times through email and social media, requesting anonymity while doing so, to question why EMT staff weren’t included in a recent pay raise given to all county employees by the fiscal court.

The answer to that is rather simple though, Loperfido told the Times. EMTs aren’t county employees.

Although they work within Carter County, and some portion of their funding passes through the fiscal court, the Emergency Ambulance Service has its own taxing district. As such, they are an independent government entity, and their employees are not paid through the fiscal court.

Despite this news, which EMTs are unlikely to welcome, Loperfido noted that they did give EMTs a five percent raise during the previous year.

They could do more with more funds, he said, but unfortunately ambulance services were not among those included in federal COVID relief programs. The Carter County Ambulance did receive some COVID funding, through what Loperfido described as the generosity of the fiscal court and efforts of Judge Executive Mike Malone. But they used most of those funds to pay down back taxes and other debts. While that meant the money couldn’t be put to immediate use for wages, it also places the ambulance service in a better financial position for the future, according to Loperfido. 

He’s also looking at other ways to continue improving the service’s finances. One of those is a new contract with Stryker ALS 360 for new equipment. All equipment comes with a limited life-cycle, he explained – lifts, monitors, etc. They all need to be replaced regularly. Even if they are still working fine, some items, like computer systems, just become outdated and obsolete. The contract with Stryker would cost a little more up front, but it would save the service in the long run. Currently they are expending around $36,000 a year on maintenance for equipment. That maintenance cost would be included in the Stryker contract, which would replace all of their items with new stock immediately. The ten year contract also includes a replacement of all gear at some point between years four and six with new gear. This allows the ambulance service to get new gear twice during the contract period and allows Stryker to sell the older gear, which still has some value, for a profit to other departments. 

It’s not an overnight fix, he said, but it’s one part of a plan to help bring the service out of the deep debt they’ve been in. The board took Loperfido’s recommendation of the Stryker contract under advisement, but said they will not take any action on the contract until their August or September meeting. 

In other action the board accepted a GEMT report for billing service payments, based on predicted runs given the data from previous years. This will result in an additional revenue stream of $8,639.63 per month – or $20,576.83 minus the monthly tax rate of $11,937.20 for those revenues. 

The board also discussed purchasing another back-up ambulance, and repairs to the damaged wall at the West Base. That wall was damaged when an employee backed into it, but Loperfido said insurance is covering the cost of replacing all panels on the wall. 

In his report to the board, Loperfido noted that runs are picking back up, as are transports. The service ended June with 486 runs, ahead of last year’s total by 46 runs. The fiscal year ended with 5,598 runs, 578 more than the previous year. 

Loperfido also reported that the Ford ambulance #4 has been returned to Ambunet. The truck, which was plagued by multiple electrical system failures, was taken back and the purchase price given as credit toward another truck. 

Loperfido said so far there are no issues with that truck, and that all employee feedback on its performance has been positive. 

Contact the writer at editor@cartercountytimes.com

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