(La Porte, IN) - Medics leaving at a high rate for more pay elsewhere have purse-string holders in LaPorte County scrambling to stop the bleeding. But, no solutions were reached yet during a Thursday workshop by members of the LaPorte County Council and LaPorte County Commissioners.
However, officials learned a tax increase might be needed to give medics enough money for them to stay and provide a decent enough raise to other county employees to keep them from leaving.
The problem stems from salaries going up throughout the job market.
Councilman Mike Rosenbaum said money is tight, but one option is granting medics a large enough increase and spreading it over several years. Rosenbaum hopes that medics receiving the entire amount all at once would mean lesser increases for other county employees unless taxes are raised.
“We’re really trying to look hard on how we can do this,” the councilman stated
LaPorte County Emergency Medical Service Administrator Andrew McGuire asks for a $10,000 wage increase for each paramedic. Twelve emergency medical technicians and paramedics from a 52 member staff have left this year primarily for higher pay at ambulance services in Porter, Lake, and other surrounding counties.
Usually, McGuire said less than a half dozen medics depart annually. Those departures are traditionally from retirement and switching occupations.
“That’s why it’s very disturbing to us,” McGuire said.
As a result, McGuire said his department would spend about $400,000 in overtime this year. Typically, approximately $160,000 is spent annually for overtime, he explained.
McGuire said his department had been several medics short for pretty much the entire year because it takes at least two months for every medic, once hired, to become available for duty, then others leave before they’re ready to start.
The workload the past nine months has taken enough of a toll on morale that it’s become an added factor in the turnover, according to McQuire.
Medics work a standard 24-hour shift then have two days off. Overtime means being on duty for 48 consecutive hours or sometimes another eight to 16 hours after a regular shift.
“That’s where the burnout effect comes in,” he said.
McGuire said medics knowing lives are at stake, put in the extra hours when asked, but they’ve increasingly become unwilling to. Occasionally, he’s also had to take an ambulance out of service for a shift or two when there aren’t enough medics to man the vehicle. Medics in ambulances still in service then have to respond more to answer every call. In LaPorte County, 14,650 calls were answered by EMS last year.
McGuire said the number of calls right now is about 900 more than at this time last year.
“Our call volume is so high there are nights when they don’t even get a chance to do any relaxing. It’s not consistently like that but there are some pretty bad shifts when these guys are on pretty much around the clock,” he said.
Fortunately, he said response times had not been hurt much because medics from outside the county help when short-staffed crews are too stretched by peak call volumes.
Rosenbaum said another possibility is dipping into the $21 million county government received in federal COVID-19 relief funds and workforce reductions in departments where it’s possible to have enough money for workers.
“We’ll work within what we can do,” Rosenbaum said.