EMS says efforts made to address volunteer complaints

Published 6:34pm Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Polk County EMS and Emergency Services Director Sandra Halford says the EMS department, including medical director Dr. Alison Owens, made multiple efforts in the past to work with volunteers who felt training opportunities were not convenient or requirements were too stringent.

“We’ve tried to work with them,” Halford said.

Volunteers recently claimed the number of training hours required for first responders and the availability of training courses caused an unnecessary burden on people in the county willing to sacrifice their time to help others. Commissioners felt the issue had gotten so bad, on Jan. 7 they voted 4-1 to seek a new medical director. Since then current medical director Dr. Allison Owens has submitted her resignation and will leave the post as of Feb. 15.

Halford said up until two or three years ago training was offered for volunteers four times a month through Isothermal Community College. The classes were held once on Tuesday morning, once on the second Tuesday night of the month and two others on Monday nights picked by first responders. She said some of the classes would even rotate from department to department.

In 2010 there was a problem filling the classes. Halford said for example, there might be one class with only eight people in it one night and another with only four. She said this created an issue for the college, which could no longer afford to send instructors over that often.

At that point the system was forced to pair down to two classes.

“In talking with them and through a survey of first responders, the majority voted to get it done in 12-hour increments,” Halford said.

She said the system had also lowered its hour requirement for certification each year from 36 to 24. She said at the end of the year a group of EMS training officers met and asked if one three-hour course a month could be thrown in to accommodate those who couldn’t make weekend courses. Halford said she agreed to make that happen. Halford said the system has even honored hour-for-hour what a first responder gets in training from another county, so long as it matches up with the level of training taught in Polk County.

According to Halford, Henderson County requires 36 hours of training each year. Henderson County’s EMS director did not return calls to confirm this requirement.

Halford said Polk County does also require ITLS certification for trauma, which Rutherford County also requires, and an additional pediatric emergency medicine course.

Halford has been a paramedic since 1998 and has worked with the Polk County system for 22 and a half years, serving as the EMS director since 1999.

She said she also must obtain re-certification and a total of 36 continuing education hours to continue working as a paramedic. She said she does not believe it is overly taxing to complete required training hours each year.

Commissioner chair Michael Gage at one time said there has been a problem related to communication and the obtaining of training within EMS for eight to 10 years.

Harry Denton served as a Polk County Commissioner for four years, being elected in 2002 and leaving the commission in 2006. He said in all his years as a commissioner he never felt the community was unhappy with the system.

“[Dr. Owens and Halford] did a very good job. Not one person in Polk County had ever complained to me about the service EMS provided,” Denton said.

Denton said he feels the problem lies with volunteers not liking Halford. 

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