Lee paramedic speaks out, hopes commissioners and citizens listen

Lee paramedic speaks out, hopes commissioners and citizens listen
(Source: WALB)
(Source: WALB)
(Source: WALB)

LEESBURG, GA (WALB) - A victim in an afternoon car crash in Lee County went into cardiac arrest at the scene, and a Lee County paramedic was able to resuscitate that person.

Right now, Lee County Commissioners are considering changing EMS crew schedules, a move that one paramedic says could ruin one of Georgia's best EMS services, with the fastest response time in the region, according to Lee County officials.

Two cars were mangled at Tuesday afternoon's crash at Philema Road and Highway 32 in Lee County, and three people were hurt in the crash.

By the time we got to the scene, paramedics were already rushing the injured people to the hospital.

"You need those paramedics to be on the scene quick," says Lee County paramedic-firefighter John Anderson.

Anderson says a proposal to change the EMS shift from a 24-hour on, 72-hour off schedule to a 24-on, 48-off schedule will force experienced paramedics to leave.

He says one Lee County paramedic supervisor quit his job this week, to take another job over concerns with proposed shift changes, "We are losing experienced and great paramedics. If this happens they don't have a choice but to leave Lee County."

They don't have a choice because this father of six says he, along with 20 of the 26 full-time paramedics, have second jobs, "You make about $32,000 to $36,000 per year and you work two jobs so you can make a decent living to provide for your family and pay your bills."

A shift change to save the county taxpayers money will force experienced paramedics to choose between the two paramedic jobs.  And, Anderson says they won't choose Lee County because the new 24-on, 48-off schedule will not work with other jobs.

Anderson points out paramedic pay requires employees to take two or even more jobs to make ends meet, "My (paramedic) partner in Lee County, he has five children. You can't take care of a family with two children on $32,000 a year".

Anderson says people are anxious, and looking for other job opportunities now.

He says proposals, like one he shared with us, titled "Drop Dead Plan", which calls for a shift change and privatization if paramedics quit effective July 1, 2016 are making him and others afraid for their jobs.

Anderson was offended by the name "Drop Dead Plan", saying "We haven't seen this proposal until this week. It makes everyone furious, and I feel like that's why the (paramedic supervisor) we lost this week went with other employment."

Anderson worries even talking with us today will put his job in jeopardy, "They could try to fire me, but I am not here as an employee, I am here as a citizen. I have six children that live in Lee County and when I call for an ambulance, I want an ambulance coming."

We spoke today with Lee County Commission Chairman Rick Muggridge.  Muggridge says privatization is off the table, but that they are looking at ways to decrease expensive EMS services, while keeping the response time high.

Muggridge says plans like "Drop Dead Plan" is a small part of what he describes as "five-inches thick" of paperwork and proposals on EMS changes since the discussion began two years ago.

Muggridge says "Drop Dead Plan" was part of public paperwork and was rejected by commissioners "a couple meetings ago" and that there is a great deal of misinformation out there.

Muggridge also told us he "regrets all of the anxiety" these talks have created for employees, but that the expense of EMS services are very high, and there are "always demands on the county budget" that need to be met.  He says the Lee County service is under-utilized, and he is exploring ways to cut costs.

Anderson told us that he, and other paramedics, were okay with one proposal to allow all existing EMS positions to continue operating on the existing 24/72 schedule and pay scale for another year, before a total department consolidation the following Fiscal Year (July 1, 2017).

He says that will not only give paramedics more time to find other work, it will allow fire personnel to be at least trained as an EMT-A (EMT-Advanced), and get someone in place to run the new consolidated department who is not only a paramedic-firefighter, but also has management experience running a similar-type consolidated department.

Anderson did point out that paramedics have the most training, at least two years of paramedic school, compared with EMTs and Firefighters, some of whom only need a semester of school.

Muggridge says there is no commission consensus at this time to change the schedule, but that the "best way is a blended service."

There is a special called meeting April 19th to discuss the controversial changes.