The final slide of a PowerPoint presentation created by a committee of Jackson County Emergency Medical Services personnel included a request for a 9 percent pay increase for the next three years.

After an hour and 40 minutes of learning about EMS, asking questions and discussing funding options during Tuesday’s meeting, the Jackson County Council voted 6-1 to grant the EMS committee’s request.

The increase, 6 percentage points more than the council approved for the 2016 budget, will help put the service up to par with the average hourly rate of other services in the area.

Overall, the 9 percent pay increase will cost $139,177. The additional amount over what was approved in the budget costs $92,785 and will come out of Jackson County EMS’ ambulance fund, which includes payments from patients’ ambulance bills accrued over the years. All expenses of EMS are paid from that non-reverting fund.

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Through research, the committee found starting hourly pay rates for Jackson County EMS were 27 percent lower than those services. Because of the low pay, Jackson County EMS had 18 people leave for better-paying jobs in the past two years.

“We’re just thrilled. It’s just a real good feeling for everyone now, like a big weight off of our shoulders,” Dennis Brasher, executive director of Jackson County EMS, said of the pay raises.

“It’s really going to help the morale, I think, of employees,” he said. “People that were looking for other jobs to go to will stay here. Just keeping the experienced employees here in the county that live here in the county, they didn’t really want to leave. But now, they see that the council is working with us trying to resolve this issue.”

During summer budget hearings, Brasher asked the council for 9 percent pay raises but received only 3 percent. Other county employees received 2 percent raises. Those raises will be paid for through the general fund in most cases.

Brasher then had four employees — paramedics Nate Bryant and Mary Tabeling, paramedic supervisor Valleri Curry and emergency medical technician Ray Minton — volunteer to research the pay of area EMS services.

They included the results in their presentation along with information about the required training and daily duties of EMTs, advanced EMTs and paramedics and the various situations they could encounter on the job.

The committee gave each council member a binder with information such as examples of monthly budgets of EMS personnel and letters of support from Seymour Mayor Craig Luedeman and past employees.

Brasher said he was impressed by the work of the committee.

“They did a great job,” he said. “They just volunteered to serve on this committee, and they got together and had brainstorming sessions to decide how they wanted to present that, gathered data and met here (at the EMS station in Seymour) to put this PowerPoint presentation together.”

Bryant, who has worked for Jackson County EMS for more than nine years, said the committee was pleased with the outcome.

“I think the overwhelming support from both the council and commissioners is what makes Jackson County one of the strongest and best counties to reside in,” he said. “The residents of Jackson County should be proud and rest assured that if they should ever need to dial 911, they have the best EMS, fire and police responders coming to their aid.”

Tabeling, a four-year veteran of Jackson County EMS, said she also is grateful for the council’s approval.

“This will do wonders for the overall morale among our employees,” she said. “We thank the council for allowing us to present and providing a swift decision. We are so pleased to see that our hard work has paid off and we are still able to provide high-quality emergency care to the citizens of Jackson County. We extend a sincere thank-you to everyone who helped make this possible.”

The raises include the 40 full- and part-time employees of Jackson County EMS and the two salaried employees, Brasher and education coordinator Hugh Garner.

Council President Leon Pottschmidt cast the lone nay vote for the raises based on the fact that Brasher and Garner were included.

Most directors of county departments are in the Exec I level, but including Brasher and Garner in the 9 percent pay raises bumps them into a separate pay grid, county attorney Susan Bevers said.

Pottschmidt said he wanted to see the employees receive 9 percent but not include two executive-level positions since that would put their pay above other county department heads.

Council member Charlie Murphy said he was OK with including the salaried EMS employees in the raises. Brasher has worked in the EMS field since 1978 and has served as executive director since Jackson County EMS started in 1991.

“We’ve got a guy here (Brasher) that has been here 24 years that, in my opinion, has made this what it is,” Murphy said. “We’ve come leaps and bounds. We have a good ambulance service.”

Council member Brian Thompson said the council and EMS will have to work together to look at ways to fund the raises for 2017 and 2018.

“We’re actually working together with (EMS), I think, very well because we’re helping them out, but they are helping us out, too,” Thompson said. “They are helping us out with budgeting, and this is the way government is supposed to work — together.”

Several people attended the meeting in support of the EMS personnel.

Cathy Wichman, director of emergency services at Schneck Medical Center in Seymour, said the hospital relies a lot on Jackson County EMS personnel’s care of patients before they arrive.

“If they get their hands on a patient first and they provide that lifesaving care, it allows us to do the work we do in getting them the best care possible for the best outcomes,” Wichman said.

Schneck has paramedics in its emergency department, and Wichman said she has had Jackson County EMS employees stop by her office asking about job openings. Their reason for job searching always is related to pay, she said.

“We often reserve competing with (Jackson County EMS) and not taking people that would really help us out in our emergency department because we can’t afford to lose their hands within the community,” said Wichman, who also was speaking on behalf of Dr. Frank Pangallo, emergency department medical director at Schneck.

“It’s very important for us to have that very seasoned staff within our community because it helps us provide better care for our patients,” Wichman said. “We’re very proud to work with them.”

Lisa McCoy has worked in the hospital’s emergency department for about seven years and is now a nurse practitioner. She said she was on a committee that looked at the amount of time it took for EMS to transport a heart attack patient to an out-of- county hospital.

For Jackson County EMS, it was 63 minutes, which was below the average. That helped the service be among six in the state to earn the American Heart Association Mission: Lifeline award for treatment of heart attack patients.

“Those seasoned paramedics we could always count on. If they say (a patient is) having a heart attack, they are having a heart attack,” McCoy said. “If you are having a heart attack at your home, who do you want there? You want the experienced paramedics that are going to be there giving you the care that you need and get the procedure that you need.”

Jeff Hubbard, the county’s human resources director, also pointed out the importance of having experienced people working for EMS. He said the county is liable for $25,000 for every liability claim associated with an employee’s negligence.

“In 15 years, I can count on less than one hand (the number of claims) with EMS,” he said. “I think that speaks huge the amount of liability that could happen with less-than-superior individuals, and I hear all of these (EMS) people leaving. It just escalates the potential of somebody on some run doing something that they are not supposed to because they are not experienced enough.”

Jerry Hounshel also spoke about the good work of Jackson County EMS. He said he spent 30 years with the Jackson County Sheriff’s Department, and he’s now in his seventh year as a county commissioner and also serves on the ambulance service advisory board.

He said he remembers the challenges the county faced when it had a contractual ambulance service. When commissioners created Jackson County EMS in 1991 and the county council agreed to fund it, that made a big difference, he said.

“I have to give them 10 out of 10 on a 10 scale because it’s just phenomenal what they do,” Hounshel said. “I just can’t say enough. I’ve never seen such a professional group of people and compassionate when they arrive at something. … It’s amazing the job that they do, and we’re so very fortunate.”

By the numbers

The Jackson County Council recently voted 6-1 to approve 9 percent pay raises for all 42 Jackson County Emergency Medical Services personnel for each of the next three years.

Jackson County EMS currently has 12 emergency medical technicians, one advanced EMT and 16 paramedics who work full time and seven EMTs and four paramedics who are part time. The salaried employees are executive director Dennis Brasher and education coordinator Hugh Garner.

Overall, the 9 percent pay increase will cost $139,177. The additional 6 percent over what was approved in the budget costs $92,785 and will come come out of Jackson County EMS’ ambulance fund.

In the past two years, 18 people have left Jackson County EMS for other jobs, mainly because of the low pay rates. Those people combined for nearly 90 years of experience.

Research by a Jackson County EMS committee found that all of the starting hourly pay rates were below the average of area EMS, hospitals and fire departments. In Jackson County, the rates included $9.49 for EMTs, $10.06 for advanced EMTs, $11.51 for paramedics, $11.91 for supervisors, $19.01 for training/quality assurance coordinators and $22.72 for the executive director.

A survey conducted by the committee showed 75 percent of its employees said they were either actively searching for or considering other employment. Eight-four percent said they agreed or strongly agreed that they would remain employed at Jackson County EMS if hourly compensation rates matched the local comparable average.

Of the current Jackson County EMS employees, 54 percent work two jobs, 33 percent work three jobs and 3 percent have four jobs to make ends meet. That leaves only 10 percent with Jackson County EMS as their only employer.

Full-time employees have a 56-hour workweek, including 40 hours of regular pay with 16 hours of overtime. They work 24-hour shifts and then take 48 hours off.

In 2015, Jackson County EMS is on pace to top 6,200 ambulance runs, which would be the most since the service started in 1991.

Source: Jackson County EMS

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Zach Spicer is a reporter for The (Seymour) Tribune. He can be reached at zspicer@tribtown.com or 812-523-7080.