Aiken County Council discusses possible solutions to emergency medical services issues

·4 min read

Sep. 21—Aiken County's emergency medical services woes and possible solutions were hot topics Tuesday at the Aiken County Government Center.

The discussions began during the meeting of Aiken County Council's Judicial and Public Safety Committee, and they continued later during an executive session of County Council.

Following those talks, County Administrator Clay Killian said that in the near term, the county would be trying to work out issues that have prevented the signing of new contracts with Gold Cross EMS and SouthStar EMS.

Those private Georgia-based companies provide supplemental ambulance service in Aiken County. Currently, they are operating here on a month-to-month basis.

"There are sticking points on both sides, some of which we cannot bend on," Killian said. "We're going to ask them to sit down face-to-face and not just keep sending paper back and forth. And we're going to try to do that as quickly as we can."

In 2021, Gold Cross and SouthStar announced that an agreement had been reached for SouthStar to "join the Gold Cross family" early this year.

Under the deal, the existing leadership teams and operations were supposed to remain in place, according to a news release.

During Tuesday's JPS Committee meeting, Councilman Kelley Mobley expressed concern that bureaucracy and policy disagreements with Gold Cross and SouthStar were having a negative impact on EMS services locally

On numerous occasions in August, ambulances were not available to assist residents of Aiken County.

There were 71 incidents of status zero and 161 calls pending.

"Status zero is when every truck is on a call, and while they're all tied up, we don't get any other calls for service," Killian told the Aiken Standard. "If we get a call for service, and they're all tied up, that call becomes a pending call."

During the first 19 days of September, there were 37 status zero incidents and 33 pending calls.

Killian and other county officials have said that hiring and retaining emergency medical technicians and paramedics are the biggest challenges locally.

Also during the JPS meeting, County Council Chairman Gary Bunker suggested three strategies the county could pursue.

The first was to increase pay for EMS workers again after a series of raises in recent years.

"Right now we're generally competitive (when compared to the pay offered by other EMS providers in the area)," Bunker said. "I'm not content with competitive. I want to be dominant. In other words, I want the playing field tilted towards Aiken County."

The second strategy was to increase the number of ambulances staffed by county employees from 10 (when enough workers are available) to 12.

And the third was to change the shift schedule from 24 hours on and 48 hours off to 24 hours on and 72 hours off.

"I have discussed the 24/72 shift with other (EMS) directors around the state that have gone to it, and it has made a difference in their service," said Aiken County EMS Director Chris DeLoach. "I hear people say that if we had a 24/72, they would come here. We did do a survey in house on schedules and 24/72 was hands down what everybody would like."

DeLoach told the JPS Committee that it would help if some local dispatchers received the training needed to qualify as emergency medical dispatchers.

"When you call, there is a certain line of questioning so they can better determine the nature of your emergency and give our crews a better idea of what kind of call they are going to," DeLoach explained later. "It would allow us to prioritize calls so we can differentiate between somebody having leg pain for three weeks as opposed to somebody having a cardiac event."

In addition, DeLoach told the JPS Committee that there are 11 applicants for a basic emergency medical technician class that the county will be conducting in conjunction with the South Carolina Fire Academy beginning in October.

"We're going to continue our aggressive recruiting and keep doing everything we can to make it (Aiken County) an attractive place to come and work," Killian told the Aiken Standard.

Earlier this year, the county officials thought significant progress had been made in resolving past issues with EMS.

There were no status zero incidents or calls pending in February and March.

"The Judicial and Public Safety Committee now has had the opportunity to have a discussion about the different options going forward," said Bunker on Tuesday. "This was sort of the initial conversation. I expect in the coming month that we'll probably start having some more solid measures coming out."

County Council also held its regular monthly meeting Tuesday. All nine members were present or participated via telephone.