Staffing shortages, inadequate facilities present challenges for Grand County EMS department
by Charli Engelhorn
contributing writer
Oct 11, 2012 | 2644 views | 0 0 comments | 288 288 recommendations | email to a friend | print

Grand County Emergency Medical Services Department received 87 more calls in 2011 than in 2010, according to director Andy Smith. With a total call volume of 931 calls during the year, 76 percent of those were received between the months of March and October, and only 61 percent of those calls were for residents of Grand County.

“Staffing is still the biggest challenge we face,” Smith told the Grand County Council last month. “Continued call volume increases have increased the per person workload, as well as a decrease in peoples’ ability and time to volunteer and an increase in average call length.”

According to Smith, the EMT department is receiving an average of almost three calls per day, with an average call time – the time to respond and deal with the emergency – being approximately 2.2 hours. Because of the small staff and the call volume, EMS volunteers are each averaging approximately 74 calls per year.

Issues contributing to the EMS staffing challenge also include the complexity of the calls staff members are handling, with backcountry emergencies making up 14 percent of the total calls taken in 2011. Smith said the response time on those calls could last anywhere from two hours to 16 hours.

“Calls by type is important to know to understand what is demanded from our staff. We go on quite a few transfers and backcountry calls, and those are long, long calls,” Smith said.

The seasonal population of EMS volunteers makes it difficult for the agency to always have someone available when needed, Smith said. And with the influx of visitors during tourist season, the demand on the department is increasing, he said. Smith also said it is harder for staff to keep current with certifications because of constant changes in state and national certification standards.

Facilities that are ageing and inadequate also present challenges for the department. According to Smith, the current facility is 25 percent too small to properly accommodate EMS operations.

“This was pointed out as a weakness to our future growth in the long run. An increase of 25 percent would be 1,600 square feet. Our facility does not allow for appropriate security,” Smith said. “And we have inadequate and inefficient heating, cooling, and ventilation systems.”

Fumes from department vehicles often seep into the office spaces, and because many the supplies and medications have to be maintained at a specific and constant temperature, the systems are running 24 hours a day.

Smith also noted his department is also working to address public and internal relations issues, including low morale within the department and the fact that many staff feel that they are invisible to the public.

“We are looking to leave some of the past problems in the past and just move forward,” Smith said.

In dealing with the challenges, Smith said his department is trying to identify a mission statement and a vision for the future, including forming a strategic plan and increasing the level of care provided to patients.

“We really felt like identifying a department vision and mission statement would help us move forward and determine where we are going to be and how to get there,” Smith said.

Increasing the level of care available to EMS patients includes getting more staff certified as paramedics rather than intermediate- and advanced-level certifications. Smith also said the department is adding more training sessions each month for staff members.

The next challenge for EMS will be to increase the efficiency of its billing systems and investigate space needs and logistics involved in possibly attaining a new facility, Smith said.

“It really is a large challenge to run this department. I have a great appreciation for those who have come before me,” said Smith. “When you sit down and start thinking about how to fix your staffing problems and how to get a better financial footing... It’s pretty complex.”

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