Originally created 12/15/04

Emergency personnel shortage costly to fix



AIKEN - Aiken County needs to shell out an additional $650,000 next year if it plans to fully staff and keep its existing emergency responders and paramedics, an advisory committee said Tuesday.

The county is struggling to keep EMS personnel on board, and the department, with just 55 employees, is short 10 people. Without a change, the shortage, coupled with the county's growing and aging population, could create a life-threatening problem, members of the EMS Advisory Committee say.

"When you've got a 23 percent turnover rate in anything, it's bad," committee Chairman John Strickland said.

There is about $2.5 million in this year's budget to pay EMS personnel.

To compete with surrounding counties and private emergency services, Aiken County needs to budget $325,000 in salary increases next year, committee members told the Aiken County Council's Judicial and Public Safety Committee.

And to battle the burnout and fatigue that often lead to employee losses, the county needs to let employees in four of the county's stations work 12-hour shifts instead of 24-hour duty.

The shorter shifts would mean four personnel crews instead of three and would cost another $325,000, advisory committee members said.

Councilwoman LaWanan McKenzie, the chairwoman of the committee, said she needed more than projections before reporting to the full council next week.

"What you've said, it doesn't seem that out of line with what we've expected," she said. "But when we go to council, I want to be able to tell them exactly what to expect."

She also wanted projections for two new EMS stations the county plans to build with money from the 1-cent sales tax extension that passed Nov. 2.

Phil Clarke, the county's emergency management coordinator, estimated that it would take about $570,000 to man the new stations, which won't be built until after 2006.

The county also needs 15 defibrillators, which would cost about $234,000, but it has only $100,000 for the machines.

Advisory committee member Proctor Bush said funding the need could come down to "death or taxes."

"Which do you choose?" he quipped.

Reach Josh Gelinas at (803) 648-1395, ext. 113 or josh.gelinas@augustachronicle.com.