Ambulance district working through staffing shortage, backup concerns

By Jonathan Delozier -

A paramedic shortage has the South Lorain County Ambulance District down to a 20-employee roster and looking to hire.

Robert Holmes, president of the SLCAD board, said the shortage is not due to a move to two-person crews late last year, but rather that some employees are finding themselves stretched too thin between their ambulance jobs and other employment.

“We’ve talked about hiring more people and are looking at about three right now,” he said.

While Holmes said the shortage isn’t affecting ambulance runs at all, others have noted that supervisors have found themselves racking up big overtime hours.

“A lot of it we can’t control,” he said. “It’s training the supervisors do and training they attend. That’s the overtime that’s being used right now. If we can hire one or two more people part-time, we can fill some of the shifts that might’ve had to be filled by a supervisor.”

The district is staffed by seven full-timers. Most work is done by part-time workers.

The shortage has left some EMTs reluctant to call for backup when needed. In April, the board reiterated that if one team member thinks backup should be called, the team should do so even if there is disagreement, according to meeting minutes.

Backup is a supervisor. If one isn’t available, Wellington firefighters can be called, Holmes said.

In December, the SLCAD board voted to reduce its ambulance crews from three EMTs to two. The decision eliminated 21 12-hour shifts per week from the district’s schedule and was met with impassioned opposition at the board’s January meeting.

Crew members said reducing numbers would eat into their salaries and impede their ability to function in emergencies.

Holmes said the switch has gone off without a hitch to this point.

“Instead of being out the door in six to 10 minutes we’re out the door in around two now,” he said. “We’re on scene six to 10 minutes sooner. That’s what the purpose of all of it was, to get to the people and be hands-on faster. It had nothing to do with saving money. We’ve hired two full-time people since then, so once the cost of their hours and benefits are factored in, it takes away any sort of money savings for us.”

Fire chief Mike Wetherbee has raised questions about whether his department’s costs will rise as a result of taking on more ambulance backup calls.

“I went to the fire board and went over the whole deal with them,” said Holmes. “They understand what’s being asked and there’s no problem. I don’t believe we put any more pressure on them as far as being on scene or helping out. They’re still answering the calls they answered before and we’re doing fine. I think it’s a win-win situation for us and the constituents. We’re there sooner for them now and that’s our only goal here.”

Jonathan Delozier can be reached at 440-647-3171 or @DelozierNews on Twitter.

By Jonathan Delozier