Hawkins EMS says it may shut down ambulance if funding request is denied

Jeff Bobo • Feb 21, 2018 at 6:30 PM

ROGERSVILLE — Hawkins County EMS Director Jason Murrell told county leaders Tuesday he might have to park one of the county’s six 24/7 ambulances if he is denied a request for an additional $30,000 contribution.

The Budget Committee didn’t take action on Murrell’s request, although committee Chairman Stacy Vaughan said he might pull it from Monday’s full commission agenda until more is known about available funding and the county’s 2018-19 budget situation.

It was also reported Tuesday that the wheel tax increase has generated about $712,000 less than projected for the first seven months of 2017-18, which means another tight budget season is on the horizon.

When Church Hill EMS folded in 2016, Hawkins County EMS picked up the entire county.

At the time, both agencies were receiving a $30,000 annual contribution from the county commission, but when Church Hill EMS folded, its $30,000 reverted to the county general fund.

Murrell told the Budget Committee Tuesday he needs that extra $30,000 to continue operating Hawkins County EMS at full strength.

The biggest problem is overtime

Murrell said his agency, like many across the nation, is having a hard time hiring qualified staff. As a result, he has to pay a lot of overtime, which increases his workman’s comp bill.

“We got a bill in January for an upfront cost of $20,000 that we had to pay right then ... no payment plan,” Murrell told the panel. “An estimated $30,000 is going to come due in March to catch up with the overtime we had last year.”

A normal payroll with no overtime should run $58,000 to $61,000 per pay period. With overtime, Hawkins County EMS is paying $70,000 to $75,000 per pay period.

That’s about $145,000 per month in payroll, not including other overhead costs, but the agency’s monthly revenue is averaging only $223,000.

Why does Hawkins EMS have so much overtime?

Murrell said he can’t find people to hire, and he doesn’t have a big enough staff to keep six trucks running full time without overtime.

“Nobody does,” he added. “We’ve not shut a truck down, unless it’s momentarily while crews are coming from one station to another station or something like that. Other counties are shutting trucks down because they don’t have the personnel to do it. It’s just an EMS staffing shortage. It’s nationwide. Nobody wants to get into EMS anymore.

“We’re using the most part-time employees that we can.”

What if the $30,000 is denied?

“We’ll do what we can, but the possibility of shutting a truck down is very possible,” Murrell said.

He added, “If we shut a truck down, the personnel would still be employed. Nobody will lose their job. It would just be that an area wouldn’t have an ambulance, and then that’s going to tax the ones that are still running — the five trucks — to even run more calls when they’re already running (nonstop) almost 24/7.”

Vaughan asked Murrell if Hawkins County EMS would be back in a few months asking for more money if the request is approved.

“I don’t feel that we’d have to ask for more. ... I do feel that EMS, since we took the whole county, should be allotted that $60,000 that was previously allocated for EMS, to run the whole county,” Murrell said.

Vaughan told Murrell to be prepared for his request to be pulled from the commission’s agenda Monday, especially if the wheel tax exemption resolution passes.

“We’ll do everything we can do, but it’s going to be based on revenue and expenditures,” Vaughan said. “If something happens and we can’t give it to you this time, will have to look stronger in next year’s budget. We can only work with the funds we’re dealt.”


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