By Connie Leinbach
Citing low pay, inadequate funding and many other issues, the Hyde County EMS director and deputy director have submitted their resignations.
EMS chief for the county, David White, said in an email to the Ocracoke Observer, his staff and several others that his last day will be June 17 and he has found employment outside of the county as a paramedic, which pays more than his current salary.
Jeremy Kaiser, deputy EMS director, said in a separate statement that his last day will be June 10 and he, too, has found a job elsewhere.
Hyde County Public Information Officer Donnie Shumate confirmed the resignations and also one by the EMS Training Section Chief.
In a statement to the Observer, Hyde County Manager Kris Noble said there will be no disruption of EMS service.
“Hyde County can confirm that we have received the resignations of our EMS Director, EMS Deputy Director, and EMS Training Section Chief,” she said in a statement. “We are currently working with the NC Office of Emergency Medical Services and the NC Department of Public Safety Emergency Management to address the administration of Hyde County’s Emergency Medical Services. There will be no interruption to Hyde County’s EMS services due to these resignations. The county will release more information as it becomes available.”
In his lengthy email, White, who is a paramedic and has worked for Hyde for 12 years, said he is leaving for better pay as a paramedic on another EMS unit and not as a manager shouldering the weight of an entire county’s healthcare.
“Your EMS management averages at least 80 hours every week between working shifts, office work, and 100+ hours a month on the phone during their off time, making home life, relationships, parenting, mental health, and many other things almost impossible,” he said. “However, we are paid far less than many upper county employees who work, or rarely work, a full 40 hours a week.”
The three resignations come during the county’s budgeting process, which is scheduled to continue until June 12 when the commissioners approve next year’s budget that begins on July 1.
The proposed revenue and expense budget can be viewed on the Hyde County website at http://hydecountync.gov/departments/finance.php.
Moreover, the Hyde County Board of Commissioners will hold another budget workshop in a special called meeting at 8 a.m. Thursday (May 25) in the Hyde County Government Center, Multi-Use Room, Swan Quarter and streamed via the Hyde County Public Information Facebook page.
In the EMS section in the expense budget, the proposed amount for EMS starting July 1 is $2.5 million, up from $2.15 million last year.
The salary section calls for $1 million in salaries, up from $841,782 last year.
Both White and Kaiser said this is not enough to attract and retain quality staff.
“Most counties across the state have had to increase their pay 10 to 30% to retain current employees and attract new employees,” Kaiser said. “Hyde County has hardly even begun to address this issue. A 1% yearly pay raise is nothing more than a slap in the face to all county employees. 1% will not help fight attrition or attract new employees.”
Kaiser also noted low morale in the EMS department.
“A large factor in the low morale is a failing fleet of vehicles and low pay when the employees look around at other counties and see them driving new vehicles and seeing the pay increases being given,” he said. “Every year the EMS administration has presented budgets that would dramatically improve morale and every year EMS has been handed a budget that does the opposite.”
Ocracoke has long needed extra personnel on the island, White said.
“Over the past years there have been dozens of times that the only EMS unit was busy leaving no healthcare available for emergencies and citizens in desperate need,” he said. “Each and every time this occurs there is community outrage towards the county. The cost of completely assured personnel available on Ocracoke 24/7/365 is only around $250,000, this adds four paramedics, and adds an extra person to every shift to be on the island without fail at all times to provide healthcare. We have asked for this position for the last two years due to emergencies we couldn’t respond to due to call volume, it has been cut both times.”
He also noted the delay in building a free-standing EMS station on the island.
“We received a full grant years ago to build an EMS station on Ocracoke,” White said. “Where is it? Should have been done and built long ago at this point. All complaints on the island pertaining to the service and morale are poor equipment related (trucks), terrible pay, or the EMS base, it is killing morale to be stowed away in an upstairs apartment with only one room that has a door, the other living quarters has a sheet up as a door.
“They all know this base should have long been built, and nobody is getting it done for them.”
White was also critical of Hyde County government for not sufficiently funding the Sheriff’s Office and the volunteer fire departments.
In her budget message, read at the May 1 commissioners meeting and available online, Noble recommended a property tax rate of 1.045 cents per $100 of assessed valuation for the 2023-2024 fiscal year that begins July 1 and supports a budget of $16.9 million an increase of 9.065 % from last year.
The new tax rate would be an increase of $0.15 from the previous year. Last year’s rate was $0.895 cents per $100.
Noble’s proposed budget calls for an overall increase of $394,193 for EMS services.
According to her message:
“This budget includes an administration assistant for EMS collections in an effort to generate the maximum allowable revenue reimbursements through insurance and Medicaid/Medicare filings.
“The proposed budget includes the cost to lease one new ambulanceat $45,000.
“Hyde County has an aging fleet and needs to reinvest in their ambulances in lieu of spending exorbitant repair bills on the older depleted vehicles and to maintain reliable service for our citizens.
“An investment of an additional leased ambulance each year for four consecutive years would yield a fully upgraded fleet.
“The mainland EMS station in need of a roof replacement, handicap ramp replacement and other minor repairs. These are reflected and increase this budget.
“In order to be competitive with similar surrounding counties, a pay scale increase based on experience is included for Emergency Medical Technicians. Pay rates for EMS employees in surrounding counties were taken into consideration while setting the small hourly pay rate changes reflected in this budget.
“Due to the reduced labor force and rising wages, the environment is such that surrounding counties increased salaries, with significant increases for first responders. Therefore, with this budget, an increase in salaries for Hyde County’s EMS staff is suggested to provide service in a manner that provides for safe and healthy communities. The total increase in the budget for salaries and all related benefits is approximately $197,000.
“This original Manager’s Proposed Budget included four Quick Response Vehicle medics for Ocracoke in an effort to increase year-round coverage while also decreasing costs as much as possible. This solution has one fully staffed ambulance and 1 QRV with a Paramedic Service Provider staffed year-round as opposed to two fully staffed ambulances in the summer season and one fully staffed ambulance during the off season.
“The total additional yearly cost to change our staffing in this manner would have increased our total county budget by $249,109 and given our budget constraints this option was withdrawn although it would greatly increase service levels if funding was available.”
The Observer will update this story as more information becomes available.