Sunday, September 26, 2021

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Graham, NC 27253
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Commissioners agree to fund special bonuses for EMS because of vacancies

Alamance County’s commissioners have rushed to the rescue of the county’s emergency medical services with a package of financial bonuses that the county manager had sought to address a staffing shortage that he insists has hobbled the agency.

The commissioners agreed to set aside as much as $240,000 in federal pandemic relief to cover these bonuses after Alamance County’s manager Bryan Hagood pitched this extra remuneration during a five-hour meeting on Monday. The commissioners ultimately gave Hagood’s proposal a unanimous nod despite its complete absence from that evening’s meeting agenda.

Hagood told the commissioners that he had conceived of these bonuses as a stopgap measure after he learned of a severe staffing crunch at EMS late last week. The county manager added that this turnover-driven crisis has left 19 of the agency’s 96 positions vacant, resulting in some ineluctable glitches in its operations.

“They are finding themselves having to park ambulances on almost a daily basis,” he went on to elaborate. “Obviously, this affects our ability to get ambulances to citizens in need.”

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In response to this staffing shortfall, Hagood suggested that the county could offer the agency’s remaining employees $100 to take on extra 12-hour shifts and $200 to work an additional 24 hours. The county manager estimated that these financial incentives could cost the county between $170,000 and $240,000 to provide through the end of December. He nevertheless assured the commissioners that the county can draw on its cache of federal pandemic relief funds to cover the cost of the bonuses.

Hagood proceeded to compare these financial incentives to a series of longevity and signing bonuses that the commissioners approved two weeks earlier to address another turnover crisis at the department of social services.

“Right now,” he told the commissioners, “the county departments that are in crisis from a staffing and turnover perspective are EMS and DSS.”

The county manager neglected to mention another $550,000 in pay raises that the commissioners recently authorized to address recruitment and retention at the sheriff’s office. These raises, like the bonuses at social services and EMS, have all been proposed since the commissioners adopted the county’s current annual budget in June.

Hagood’s sense of alarm about the turnover at EMS was later amplified by the agency’s director Ray Vipperman.

“Staffing has been difficult for the last several years,” Vipperman conceded when he address the commissioners on Monday, “but when we entered the COVID pandemic, recruiting became even more difficult.”

Vipperman went on to confirm the county manager’s account of the forced stoppages that have apparently resulted from this staffing dilemma. This factor proved something of a turning point for commissioner Craig Turner.

“We can’t park ambulances,” Turner told the rest of the county’s governing board. “We’ve got to address this; we can’t have this.”

Turner went on to make a motion to approve the requested bonuses on the condition that county staff members also hammer out a long-term plan to deal with turnover in EMS.

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