Upper Savannah workforce development staff recently learned there is a shortage of emergency medical technicians (EMTs) and paramedics in the Region and sought funding to fix the situation.
Upper Savannah COG applied for and recently received a $500,000 federal grant from the U.S. Department of Labor to train 100 emergency medical services (EMS) personnel in Abbeville, Edgefield, Greenwood, Laurens, McCormick, Newberry and Saluda counties. The grant award was announced this month.
“The goal is to expand the pool of EMT basic all the way to advanced paramedics,” Upper Savannah COG Workforce Development Administrator Ann Skinner said.
This is a four-year grant applied jointly with the Pee Dee Council of Governments in Florence. The Pee Dee Region will receive $2 million.
“We applied together to increase the chances of the grant being funded,” Skinner said. “But there were statewide issues that we thought we could work on together. The Pee Dee grant is focused more on careers leading to nursing and is hospital-based. Ours is based with the county EMS services.”
According to a recent survey conducted by Piedmont Technical College (PTC), each county in the Upper Savannah Region had vacancies due to a lack of skilled applicants and staff turnover. Greenwood County had 17 vacancies, Laurens eight, Newberry and Edgefield five apiece, Saluda and Abbeville four apiece, and McCormick three.
The grant period begins Feb. 1, 2021, when Upper Savannah can begin to enroll trainees and pay for classes. PTC will be the educational provider while USCOG will administer the grant.
“We are going to have a boot camp this summer for recent high school graduates who are interested in becoming an EMT or paramedic,” Skinner said. “During the summer, they will receive training for basic EMT.
“After the end of the summer, they will have the chance to continue on with school to work toward becoming a paramedic or they will have an opportunity to go to work for one of the seven county EMS systems who are hiring. And if they go to work as an EMT, they can earn a living and continue school part-time to enhance their credentials and earn more.”
The grant will promote more than just the basic EMT curriculum.
“We interviewed Human Resources directors who do exit interviews and asked, ‘why do people quit EMT?’” Skinner said. The answers included stress, long hours and the physical aspects of the job.
“So we will build the boot camp around a retention model,” she said. “Some of the things we have built into the boot camp is some mentoring and counseling so that they can prepare themselves for the emotional and physical aspects of the job.
“We are building into the curriculum weight training. If they are coming straight out of high school, they might not have the physical stamina to lift a patient, so we are building in weight training through the Greenwood YMCA.”
Trainees will also be taught how to sleep.
“There are strategies for how to go to sleep. If you are working a shift job and you can’t go to sleep, you are tired, you can be dangerous, you burn out quickly,” Skinner said.
She said USCOG will work with county EMS directors to make sure they have trained staff to fill their open positions and tailor the training to meet their needs. Having full staffs can reduce overtime and even worker’s compensation cases.
County governments have worked hard to meet local needs during the pandemic. Getting a larger pool of available workers will reduce overtime costs.
This was Upper Savannah’s first-ever workforce development federal grant application and the successful award is a win for everybody in the region.
“Every resident wants fast, professional emergency medical services,” Skinner said. “They want to know if they have a need, that they can call and somebody will come. It’s a universal need.”