In 1973, President Gerald Ford authorized a week to celebrate Emergency Medical Services (EMS) personnel and the important work they do. This is known as EMS week. This year EMS week is May 15 to 21.
EMS is vital resource. They save lives, responding daily to medical emergencies, providing basic and advanced medical care at the scene of accidents. EMS personnel care for the medical needs of their patients while maintaining a calm demeanor and showing compassion to their patients in their most difficult moments.
They provide out-of-hospital medical care, transport to hospital care, and medical transport to patients with illnesses and injuries which prevent the patient from transporting themselves.
The theme for EMS week is “Called to Care” and the men and women of the San Juan County EMS department surely live up to that motto.
In San Juan County, the EMS department faces many challenges with funding and staffing, but despite the difficulties, Director Linda Larsen, a 15 year veteran of the department, has found ways to make SJC-EMS work with skill and proficiency.
San Juan County EMS operates entirely on money they receive from billing for services and grant funding. There are no county tax dollars that go into the department.
According to a report to the San Juan County Commission in 2015, the SJC-EMS department provides a 24 hour a day service similar to a big city service using a significant number of volunteer hours.
To provide the same service using paid hours would cost an estimated $1.3 million, but the volunteer hours allow for a significant savings and a department that runs on just 1/3 of that cost.
This is a significant savings for the tax payers, and a bargain for citizens and visitors, but it is certainly not a free service.
Current trends of increased call volume, longer transfer times and increasing education requirements are making it more difficult to work under the current model and it is ancipated there will need to be a change in funding for the program in the near future.
EMT’s and Paramedics dedicate their lives to serving the public. They are on standby 24 hours a day. They save lives and help others during times of illness and injury. They work every day to help people, sacrificing their time, spending countless hours in training, often at their own expense. They provide an invaluable, life-saving service for low pay and minimal thanks.
San Juan County EMS has four full time employees, county-wide, who cover the vast area from the La Sals to Lake Powell.
Administration is done by the four paid people, who also cover all transports of patients from the county to other hospitals.
The full time employees receive pay for only 40 hours a week, but continue to work and provide services and on call time in addition to their “regular” hours which they receive no compensation for.
So far in 2016, the paid employees have accumulated over 4,000 of unpaid volunteer hours.
Even with four highly trained and hardworking employees, San Juan County EMS could not operate without the thousands of volunteer hours that are donated annually by the dedicated volunteers in the department.
There are 46 volunteers who operate out of Bluff, Monticello, Blanding and La Sal. Of the volunteer EMT’s, only 25 are currently active. In order to be active they must run six 12-hour shifts in a month and participate in 75 percent of the trainings.
Volunteer EMT’s get paid a small wage for time they put in on calls, but all of the on-call time is volunteer. The department faces an increasingly difficult task staffing EMS during the day as it hard to be an on call volunteer and work your regular job but still be available to report and be ready to roll on the ambulance within 5 minutes of a call out.
Last year, SJC-EMS responded to 650 calls in the county, while providing support when needed outside San Juan County.
In 2015, local EMS volunteers donated 51,138 hours of on-call, unpaid hours and have already accumulated 21,500 hours in 2016. There is no money to be made from being an EMT. They do it out of the goodness of their hearts and because they feel an obligation to help their community. The department is always in search of more volunteers who are willing to help.
EMTs have invested a large number of training hours. Training time is not paid. These dedicated people pay their own way to be trained to help you in your time of greatest need. Expectations of service are higher than in the past so the level of training and what’s required of our local EMT’s is higher, but the pay for calls has not increased in many years.
Basic EMT’s have 200 hours of training, Advanced EMT’s have an additional 200-300 hours and Certified Paramedics have over 2,000 hours of education. San Juan County EMS has two certified paramedics currently.
First responders, EMT’s and Paramedics are everyday heroes. They are passionate about the work they do and the service they give and they are dedicated to the people of San Juan County.
The employees and volunteers of San Juan County EMS are great people who do great work. If you have ever been in a situation where you needed their expertise, you know firsthand how lucky San Juan County is to have such high quality, wonderfully trained, caring people who are willing to work in this high stress position.
Take this week to thank a San Juan County EMS worker. EMS week is a perfect time to thank them for their great service to our communities.