Hiring has not been easy for Derek Oliver, Director of Emergency Services for Greenwood County.

The department has hired six new employees since August when the district council approved a paid incentive program for new hires and existing employees. Even so, there are still six EMT positions and four paramedic roles open, and Oliver said he is working to find ways to get more people on ambulance shifts.

The incentive plan included a $ 10,000 sign-up bonus paid in two-year timed installments for full-time employees hired on or after July 1 at EMS and the Greenwood County Detention Center. It also offered an overtime rate of $ 5 an hour, as well as a loyalty scholarship and recruitment incentive for current employees.

“It didn’t work out quite the way I’d hoped, and I don’t think it has anything to do with Greenwood County,” said Oliver.

He said he expected the incentive program to bring a wave of new applications, but it seems that the pool of interested candidates isn’t that big. Potential candidates have many options when it comes to recruiting for an EMS department, and many people who have expressed an interest in the position live further away and distance is an issue.

“We just have to get people into the workforce, that’s the problem. I still believe that at some point we will fix this problem and I hope all services can fix it so that the staff is not a problem. We hope to grow our own. “

He said he was working on a project to recruit and hire students who qualify as paramedics.

“We’re going to set up our classroom with our equipment and they can use it to study when they’re not in class,” he said.

Right now, the biggest hiring challenge is finding people who want to work as paramedics. It’s an entry-level position, but Oliver said paramedics often become paramedics or do jobs in other medical fields. A previous adjustment of the tariffs of the rescue service department in October 2020 helped to call in paramedics.

The shortage of staff has had an impact on response times. Last year, according to Oliver, the average response time has increased to around 15 minutes – seven minutes longer than his target.

The time it takes to answer a call changes day by day, and EMS uses priority shipping to ensure the most life threatening call is answered first at all times. A high volume of calls causes delays, but Oliver said supervisors stepped in to make calls when crews are tied and staff are on extra shifts.

“Delays do happen, but it’s not a constant thing,” he said.

COVID-19 in particular has introduced factors causing delays. After transporting a patient with COVID-19 or a suspected case, staff must spray and decontaminate the cab of their ambulance to prevent the disease from spreading. At times when the Self Regional Medical Center’s emergency department was overcrowded with patients, rescue workers had to wait to discharge a patient to hospital care.

“We are in a chaotic time,” said Oliver. “Sometimes we go down there and five ambulances are in the emergency room.”

It is not the hospital staff’s fault, he said, as they must also prioritize critical care. The supervisors respond to calls when ambulances are busy at the hospital, and EMS is working with the county and city firefighters to respond to some calls as well.

Oliver said he was proud of his employees – they work hard and make personal sacrifices to provide an emergency medical service across Greenwood County. He knows they are tired and says he is trying to find ways to fill in the 10 remaining gaps.

“They don’t hesitate to take their calls because they know someone could have a disease that could spread in so many ways,” he said. “It’s an overwhelming situation and we just need more people to make this sacrifice.”

Contact author Damian Dominguez at 864-634-7548 or follow @IJDDOMINGUEZ on Twitter.