Commissioners deadlocked on hiring of advanced life support techs

October 27, 2009|By HEATHER KEELS

WASHINGTON COUNTY -- A long-delayed plan to hire advanced life support technicians to support Washington County's volunteer rescue companies hit another setback Tuesday when the Washington County Commissioners could not agree to give final approval for the new hires.

Two of the five commissioners voted in favor of the new staff Tuesday; two voted against the motion, citing concerns that ambulance companies had withdrawn their support; and Commissioners President John F. Barr, who could have broken the tie, abstained, saying he saw both sides.

In 2007, the commissioners approved funding to hire 12 advanced life support technicians as the first phase of a two-phase plan to address staffing shortages at Emergency Medical Service companies, Fire and Emergency Services Director Kevin L. Lewis said. Those 12 technicians would cost the county about $560,000 a year, Lewis said.

They were to staff three advanced life support "chase cars," which would be dispatched to help with certain critical-level calls, such as cardiac arrests, and to fill in when volunteer companies don't have adequate staff available, Lewis said.


Although the chase cars to be used by the technicians were purchased more than two years ago, the hiring of the technicians was delayed by implementation details, testing requirements and a lack of applicants, Lewis said. About a month ago, the county hired three technicians, who have been operating a chase car out of Clear Spring, he said.

The county had set the end of October as its deadline for hiring the remaining nine technicians, County Administrator Gregory B. Murray said. Lewis said the county had 10 applicants who had been granted conditional offers of employment, subject to the completion of physical and psychological exams and background checks.

When Lewis asked the commissioners to sign off on hiring nine of those 10, Commissioner William J. Wivell said he had heard that a majority of the county's ambulance companies had withdrawn their support for the plan.

Lewis confirmed that several of the companies had indicated they were more interested in receiving additional funding to address staffing shortages themselves.

However, Lewis said the question of additional funding for the departments could be addressed when the county reaches the second phase of the project. Phase II was originally to involve placing advanced life support personnel hired by the county directly into ambulance company stations, but when the commissioners approved keeping Phase II funding in the fiscal year 2010 budget, they agreed to discuss whether to allocate that funding directly to the companies for them to spend on staffing instead.

Commissioners James F. Kercheval and Kristin B. Aleshire, who voted in favor of hiring the technicians, said it was too late in the game to change the plan for Phase I, especially considering that 10 prospective employees already had been told the plan was moving forward.

"If you go back and literally you have 10 people go through an entire program, and then at the last second you back out and you pull that plug, you know, it's a terrible message, not just for municipal government, but any kind of management," Kercheval said.

Aleshire pointed out the reason the county had trouble finding applicants for the positions was that many feared this very scenario -- that the commissioners would change their minds and eliminate the positions.

Wivell and Commissioner Terry Baker said they thought a few more weeks' delay was reasonable to find out more about what alternative solutions ambulance companies might suggest.

"My thought is, if we have those in the field who are now saying, 'We need to rethink this, we have a better way,' I think it's worth listening to them," Wivell said. "To me, it's worth waiting to see what they have to say."

Lewis said he would meet with the EMS companies to find out more about their positions and discuss possible solutions.

How they voted

The Washington County Commissioners' vote was tied 2-2 on a motion to finalize the hiring of nine advanced life support technicians to support county rescue companies.

Kristin B. Aleshire - yes

James F. Kercheval - yes

William J. Wivell - no

Vice President Terry Baker - no

President John F. Barr abstained.

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