COLUMBUS, Ga. — Former and current medics say the shortage is becoming a matter of life and death. They referenced an instance last year when a baby with a medical concern had to be transported to a hospital on a fire truck because there were no ambulances available.
The Mayor and Assistant Fire Chief are weighing in on their plans to rectify the paramedic shortage.
Former medic Steven Bush and current medics say they are hesitant to speak about the shortage.
They say they’ve seen what’s happened to others when they do.
Bush says he sent the link to my original story to Columbus Mayor Teresa Tomlinson. Her Facebook response reads, “Thanks Steven. i’m looking into it.”
Bush shares how he feels about the Mayor’s response. “It’s not much ya know it’s the whole thing has been disappointing in so many different areas.” says Bush.
“It’s one of those things that we constantly monitor and look for ways to organize to fill but in no way are the citizens in peril.”says Mayor Tomlinson.
But there was an instance that turned deadly it happened on September 14th of 2016.
Crews received a call for a baby that wasn’t breathing, at the time of the dispatch an ambulance wasn’t available.” says Robert Futrell, Assistant Fire Chief.
Futrell says because there wasn’t an ambulance available at the time the baby had to be transported to the hospital by a fire truck with a medic on board.
Current medics say fire trucks are not equipped with the advanced life support equipment that an ambulance has.
The baby was pronounced dead later that day.
Current medics and THE Mayor says it’s common for the medics to reach level zero.
This means no medics within our area are available at the time of an incident.
A medic call log was provided to me by a current medic.
On March 28th 2016, cfems reached a level zero nine times in one day.
So why aren’t there enough medics?
All the medics I spoke with say… low pay in one of the reasons.
This chart shows Columbus marked in red at a salary of just more than 42 thousand, five hundred dollars.
That’s compared to the highest on the chart Nashville, Tennessee with a starting salary at just more than 52 thousand dollars.
The Mayor wants to find a way to address the paramedic shortage.
“We modified our promotions schedule to allow that if you get a paramedic certification it will be treated like an Associates Degree and you can get a promotion within three years.” Says Mayor Tomlinson.
Mayor Tomlinson is proposing incentives for fiscal year 2018 to help keep medics and make the position more attractive.
She also proposed bumping all medics from a ps-14 pay grade to a ps-15, which would increase pay by 12 hundred dollars a year.
In addition to that-
“A thousand dollar additional incentive. Right now if you become a paramedic you get five thousand dollars on top of your base pay. So this would allow for a six thousand dollar increase on top of your base pay.”
A Fire Lieutenant with more than 30 years experience with CFEMS provided this ten page document.
It’s titled: EMS in Columbus, Georgia Past, Present and Future.
He breaks down the five thousand dollar supplement.
25 hundred dollars for EMT certification…. another 25 hundred for paramedic credentials….
He says after deductions this works out to about 70 extra dollars per two week pay period.
In this quote, he states- “Firefighter/EMT’s see the workload of a firemedic and choose not to take paramedic training- 35 dollars per week- is not worth it.”
“It’s not something that’s just isolated to Columbus. Just about every service in Georgia has a shortage and I just looked at the job posting site, there’s 346 postings for paramedic in Georgia.” says Chief Futrell.
Assistant Chief Futrell has been employed with CFEMS for nearly 40 years.
He says there are 26 field medics but the department is ten field medics short.
Current medics say they work 24 hours and then they’re off for 48.
They say while working though they rarely get a break because of the shortage.
“We been using rank paramedics to fill in on the units sometimes to give the current field medics a break. Reporter: that’s your Sergeants? Yes, Sergeants and Lieutenants.” says Chief Futrell.
Another current medic says he was recently promoted to sergeant.
He says over the years- there have been cuts in pay he says – due to increases in retirement and benefits.
He says, since his promotion, he’s now back to making the pay when he started ten years ago.
Several medics say they have to work a second job to make ends meet.