DOBSON — Help will soon be much closer for people in outlying areas of the county, and EMS officials are also eyeing fitness standards for first-responders.
Monday evening Surry County EMS Director John Shelton got the go-ahead to move forward with a study, which has the end-state goal of creating a physical fitness program for EMS employees.
The county board of commissioners voted unanimously to allow Shelton to hire a Charlotte-based company to make recommendations for a plan. Shelton will be allowed to spend $10,000 on the plan’s development, which will be taken from his department’s convalescent budget.
The convalescent budget is the money made off non-emergency transport of patients, such as moving a person from a hospital for rehabilitation at a skilled nursing facility or transporting a patient from his or her home for kidney dialysis treatment.
Shelton told commissioners poor diet, stress and the interruption of normal sleep patterns are only a few of the factors which can negatively affect a paramedic’s health.
He said a first-responder who isn’t in shape can be a danger to him or herself or to a patient. Though paramedics must meet a standard to earn their certifications, there is no way to ensure a paramedic remains within the standard once hired.
“It’s nothing anybody else isn’t doing,” said Shelton, indicating other entities have already implemented such programs.
He also said poor health isn’t indicative of his entire department.
“A lot of people already realize fitness is important,” remarked Shelton. “Those who need to be there (at the gym) aren’t there though.”
Shelton said the company with which he will contract, Work Physiology Associates, will help design a program which promotes health and keeps employees working longer.
“It’s not designed to get rid of employees,” explained Shelton. “It’s actually designed to keep them on the job longer.”
“How much time would an employee get to come into compliance? asked Commissioner Larry Phillips.
Shelton said an employee could get up to two years to get him or herself into compliance with any fitness standards which could result, noting the time-frame would likely depend on the employee’s level of health.
Commissioner Van Tucker asked, “So when somebody isn’t in compliance what would you do?”
“You would help them overcome it,” answered Shelton.
Quick Response Vehicles
Shelton has been lobbying to add two Quick Response Vehicles (QRVs) to his fleet since budget talks began for the current fiscal year.
He got a final approval to purchase the vehicles and equipment necessary Monday evening.
“This is the only way I can cover these parts of the county without an enormous cost,” said Shelton of more remote areas of Surry County.
Shelton’s plan will put one four-wheel drive vehicle manned with a critical care paramedic in both the Shoals and Lowgap communities. Current response times to those areas can be more than 30 minutes.
“This comes at no cost to the taxpayer,” remarked Shelton.
Commissioners allowed Shelton to use $122,074.38 from the convalescent services budget to pay for the equipment expenses.
Shelton said there will be some balancing of that budget to make it all work.
The director plans to alter shifts, staggering convalescent shifts to provide more coverage and revenue, and add part-time convalescent coverage on weekends to earn more money for the department.
He also said no additional employees will be necessary.
Last year commissioners approved a $750,000 expenditure for an additional ambulance and crew for Shelton’s department, a point Commissioner Eddie Harris made.
After the meeting Shelton said the additional ambulance and the QRVs will both operate as long as “available staffing” levels allow.
He said in the event sick time or employee vacations make it impossible to run both, manpower will first be allocated to the new QRVs, which have the necessary equipment to keep a person alive until an ambulance can arrive on scene.
“It’s the best way to allocate our assets,” said Shelton.
Tucker, who was joined by the remainder of the board in his vote to approve the necessary budget amendment to allow Shelton to go ahead with the implementation of the QRVs, said he thought the decision was pretty simple.
“We get the best of both worlds with this,” said Tucker. “It gets the personnel and equipment where we need it.”
Andy is a staff writer and may be reached at 415-4698.