Middle Tennessee Counties Facing Emergency Management Shortage
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The Tennessee Conservative [By Jason Vaughn] –
Residents in some Middle Tennessee Counties may not have access to live-saving emergency medical treatments that they desperately need due to staffing shortages.
Wilson County has already experienced temporary station closures because they are short on staff members. Joey Cooper, Agency Directory for Wilson County Emergency Management, says they are short more than 20 paramedics.
WEMA typically sends one paramedic and one EMT on an ambulance to respond to calls. The current staff shortage has left them sending some ambulances out with two EMTs on board instead.
While this may not seem like an issue, it actually means that individuals needing medical attention can only receive certain assistance.
EMTs are certified to provide basic care such as administering CPR or giving a patient oxygen. A paramedic is required if more advanced care is needed, such as certain medications or an IV.
A search of public records shows that nearly 99% of calls received by WEMA require advanced care that can only be provided by a paramedic.
Cooper stated that many paramedics have left to go work for other emergency departments and noted that many surrounding areas offer higher wages and better benefits, making it harder for Wilson County to hang on to those employees.
“It’s time to catch up with surrounding counties,” Cooper said. “It’s something we need to do immediately before it gets worse. We have to be a competitive county.”
He also stated that “lack of students in the fire and medical field, stress due to the job plus using ongoing COVID guidelines, with no relief in sight” has added to the staffing struggle.
Mayor Randall Hutto says county commissioners have been looking into pay rates and working on a plan for recruitment. He also noted that the shortage of emergency workers is not limited to Wilson County but is a wide-spread problem across Middle Tennessee.
Sumner County also experienced a staffing shortage but was able to use COVID relief funds to raise the pay for first responders, law enforcement officers, and dispatchers in order to retain those employees.
The problem there is that COVID relief funding is temporary, so there is no guarantee that there will be money to continue pay at that level, but they have the funds in place for the next 30 months.
Sumner County EMS Chief Greg Miller stated that they had to act quickly because waiting for a pay study to be done meant losing employees in the meantime. Losing employees meant they would not be able to provide the level of care needed in many cases.
“Any time you have a shortage of emergency response personnel, if ambulance stations are shut down, people will die,” Miller said. “That’s not to be harsh; that’s to be realistic.”
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Hutto stated that the lack of paramedics is concerning.
“Always, you want everything full, and you want paramedics on each one, and I’m sure Director Cooper is making sure there are paramedics on every ambulance if there’s any possible way at all,” Hutto said.
According to Cooper, dropping ambulance services to the basic level is done only as a last resort. WEMA uses parttime workers and exhausts all available overtime hours before doing so.
Hutto also added that Wilson County firefighters are also trained to provide emergency services, so there are some additional resources there, but the county commission would continue to look into adding more qualified emergency personnel.
About the Author: Jason Vaughn, Media Coordinator for The Tennessee Conservative ~ Jason previously worked for a legacy publishing company based in Crossville, TN in a variety of roles through his career. Most recently, he served as Deputy Directory for their flagship publication. Prior, he was a freelance journalist writing articles that appeared in the Herald Citizen, the Crossville Chronicle and The Oracle among others. He graduated from Tennessee Technological University with a Bachelor’s in English-Journalism, with minors in Broadcast Journalism and History. Contact Jason at news@TennesseeConservativeNews.com