Will a Durham EMS pay rise be enough to address the paramedic shortage?

DURHAM, NC (WNCN) – Nearly a quarter of paramedic positions in County Durham are vacant and that is reducing response times to some emergencies.

According to County Durham EMS officials, 19 of the 78 assigned paramedic positions are vacant.

As a result, during peak hours between 12 p.m. and 9 p.m., County Durham has had around 16 to 17 medical units on the street over the past few months, while they said they were trying to have at least 19 medical units available during this period.

Sometimes they don’t have doctors available in the county to send to any ERs, and they have to send a doctor from a neighboring county such as Wake, Orange, or Person County.

No one with Durham County EMS would do an interview with CBS 17.

But in an email, officials said high-priority calls — which include serious and life-threatening emergencies — are never held and a doctor is always immediately dispatched or redirected to those calls. Officials said there may be a slight delay when the call is transferred.

As for low-priority calls, including sprains, cuts and stomach aches, officials said those calls were sometimes put on hold until a doctor was available to dispatch them.

According to data obtained by CBS 17, it showed that for the last quarter of fiscal year 2021-22, the average response time for low priority calls was 10 minutes and 42 seconds. The county said its main goal is to answer 90% of calls in 9 minutes or less.

Officials even said that in some cases low-priority patients have to wait 20 to 32 minutes for an ambulance to respond. The holding of low-acuity calls has occurred almost daily for the past few weeks, officials said.

So what is the department doing to address this shortage?

Durham County Commissioners recently passed a pay rise for paramedics.

This increase, which takes effect in August, increases the starting hourly rate for paramedics from $20.84 to $28.25. Officials said current staff will receive that rate and a multiplier based on their years of service to determine their final salary.

County Durham EMS officials added that not only does the county need to fill these currently vacant positions, but more paramedic positions need to be created due to increased call volumes and the county’s growing population.

CBS 17 has informed the folks at Rivals Barbershop in Durham city center about the shortage of paramedics and the impact this is having on ambulance response times.

Many were surprised and worried to hear about this problem.

“It needs to be fixed because people’s lives are at stake,” said ST Wagstaff, who lives in Durham.

“I know we have to be patient because there is a shortage of workers, but at the same time, that little difference in response times can cost someone their life,” said Khedron Mims, owner of Rivals. barber shop.

Mims said he would like to see more effort from County Durham to publicize the paramedic shortage.

“We need to let people know that there are jobs in these fields so they can get the proper training,” Mims said.

“We advertise that we’re one of the best cities to live in, but I don’t think we really have enough helping hands for everyone,” Wagstaff said.

County Durham officials said they are working to advertise vacancies for paramedics on the county’s website and on social media.

To apply for a paramedic position, click here.

William M. Mayer