Friday, February 3rd, 2012
By Shelley Grieshop
EMS distress
More paramedics needed to aid response time
  A critical shortage of trained paramedics is creating longer response times and placing a heavy burden on emergency dispatchers.
Only six of the 88 squad volunteers serving Mercer County's emergency medical services (EMS) are trained paramedics who are authorized to administer medications. The remainder are certified at first responder, basic or intermediate levels.
County officials on Thursday discussed several ideas to remedy the shortage including the creation of three, full-time paid EMS units to serve in the north, central and southern portions of the county. Ultimately, they admitted funding was not available.
They also talked about ways to offer paramedic training locally.
Sheriff Jeff Grey brought up concerns over the availability of paramedics when Central Dispatch gets an emergency call.
"It's an opportunity for mistakes to be made that could cost somebody their life," Grey said during the meeting with county commissioners, top EMS and 911 officials, Celina Mayor Jeff Hazel, Celina Fire Chief Doug Wolters and others.
The county has volunteer EMS units in Coldwater, St. Henry and Rockford, where the majority of members are not available during the day due to jobs or other commitments.
A Celina unit has 16 full-time paid member; therefore, squad members are at the firehouse around the clock. The department also has eight volunteers with various levels of emergency response certification.
Coldwater and Rockford currently have the most need for trained paramedics, officials said. The Coldwater squad has none.
The availability of emergency responders of all levels isn't often known until a dispatcher attempts to summon a squad. That's when creative ideas kick in "to get the job done," Grey said.
According to protocol, if no one in Rockford responds to a dispatcher's first page, a second one is attempted six minutes later. After waiting an additional six minutes, the dispatcher sends a Celina squad to the scene - a distance of at least 12 miles.
Most members of the Rockford squad work outside the village or are not permitted to leave their job to respond to an emergency call, county EMS Director Steve Beougher said.
"Would it help if you guys sent letters to their employers?" commissioner John Bruns asked.
Beougher said he didn't think so. Most employers simply can't afford to let their workers leave the job site, he said.
On certain days and times, squad members from one community are being asked to cover others due to a lack of available personnel. 911 calls from the Coldwater area are handled by St. Henry EMS each Monday; the Celina EMS responds to Rockford-area calls 6-9 a.m. each weekday.
Trying to determine which squad is available for specific regions, depending on the day and hour, can be confusing for dispatchers. They often are alone in Central Dispatch and simultaneously fielding other emergency calls, Grey said.
"I'm not complaining about the volunteers. They're great ... I just don't want our dispatchers to make a mistake," he said. "We need a plan."
Officials said they are trying to make paramedic training more accommodating to entice new members. The cost of training - about $700 per person - and mileage expenses are paid by the county in return for a two-year commitment as a volunteer paramedic.
Three people from Coldwater's squad and one from the Rockford unit are pursuing classes to become licensed paramedic trainers so classes could be offered locally. Upon completion of the course, the four could train new paramedics at a local site and during hours convenient for candidates, EMS office manager Heather Hinkle said.
The county currently reimburses each of the four EMS units $100 for every patient transport it makes; the funds are used at their own discretion. Hinkle said some EMS units use the money to provide 401K benefits or other stipends to their volunteer members.
The shortage problem escalated last summer when a law passed requiring all ambulance drivers to be licensed paramedics. It's a huge commitment for some, officials said.
"Looking down the road 10 to 15 years, will we have any volunteers?" commissioner Jerry Laffin asked.
Anyone interested in serving as a paramedic in the county can call the EMS office at 419-586-3797.

Correction:
The most critical need is for EMT-Basics, although there is a shortage at all volunteer EMS levels.
Paramedics may administer all drugs; certified EMT-Basics and Intermediates are limited.
EMS personnel from St. Henry, Rockford and Celina units are pursuing licenses to become EMT-Basic instructors. EMT-Basic training classes are free to new members in return for a two-year commitment as a volunteer EMT-Basic.
Only the volunteer EMS units are reimbursed $100 per transport, not Celina.
A new law requires squad drivers to be licensed first responders, not paramedics.
Errors were made by the reporter and information provided to the newspaper.
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