Lubbock EMS Staffing Problems Affect Services - KCBD NewsChannel 11 Lubbock

7/17/07

Lubbock EMS Staffing Problems Affect Services

On Monday, two ambulances were taken out of service for an unknown period of time. They did not have the staff to man the trucks.  Then it happened again Tuesday, only this time just one ambulance was taken out of service.  

Tommy Johnson was employed by Lubbock EMS for 14 years. He quit just four years ago to attend nursing school, but that wasn't the only reason he left. Johnson says he wasn't pleased with management and he thinks that is what is going on right now.

"Recently, they haven't been able to staff units.  They've advertised hiring bonuses in the paper, but they're not drawing on paramedics in this region and not drawing from paramedics from the classes in this region," said Johnson.

NewsChannel 11 has received numerous phone calls and e-mails in the course of two months. They are from current and former EMS workers who complain about poor wages, poor retirement packages and are simply burned out by working so many hours.

"It is really not a bunch of disgruntled employees.  They are really looking to improve the system, improve the response for the citizens of Lubbock.  They are not gaining any support from their administrative division," said Johnson.

We went to UMC to find out what's going on. UMC Vice President Greg Bruce says they have been working to improve the Lubbock EMS situation. 

"We do have occasions where employees with EMS call in sick or are injured or have time off. On average on a week, we have about three employees that call in sick," said Bruce.

Bruce says on Monday, three medics in one shift called in sick which forced UMC to temporarily take ambulances out of service and replace them with first responders, like the Ford trucks you see roaming Lubbock.  He says when they have done that, emergency response time was averaging 4 minutes and 52 seconds.  

"The way we measure adequate coverage is looking at response times. Response times that we try to target for are six minutes or less," said Bruce.

And what about the shortage issue?  Bruce says they are creating a resource pool to help alleviate some of the fatigue.  But that pool will consist of EMTs, different than a paramedic and not as trained for life-saving emergency situations.

"Yes, I think that's detrimental to an extent.  That would be like having a nurse who only has a couple of months experience working alone with nobody to pull from for knowledge.  That extra knowledge is always an added benefit," said Johnson.

But right now, to fix the problem Johnson believes management needs to address the problem.  He says medics are complaining, not only about wages and retirement, but that morale is low.  Because other medics are fearful of losing their jobs, they don't want to speak out to management.    

Lubbock EMS starting salary is $35,000 a year. A typical shift is 24 hours on and 48 hours off, but several EMS workers pick up extra shifts to make extra money.  UMC says they have implemented a new policy as of June that says an EMS worker is not allowed to work past 24 hours without having an eight hour rest period. 

Medics can work anywhere from 2,900 hours to 4,000 hours a year. EMS is operated by UMC, which is partially funded by tax dollars.

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