Blount County American Medical Response (AMR) ambulance service is giving its employees a day off between shifts while keeping their pay the same in a significant move meant to improve employee’s personal lives.
AMR Operations Manager Johnathan Rodgers and Regional Manager Josh Spencer in an interview Tuesday explained personnel started on July 10 working 24/72-hour shifts instead of 24/48-hour shifts.
That means they’ll essentially have three full days off between 24-hour shifts instead of just two. Blount’s AMR is one of only a handful counties in Tennessee to implement this model, Spencer and Rodgers said.
Moreover, this means employees will only work seven days a month compared to the 10 days they’re used to. That’s 1,000 hours fewer on average each year, Rodgers said.
“That’s 1,000 more hours to spend time with their families and rest,” he said.
“The thing is, these folks are tired,” Spencer added. “As we all know, COVID absolutely worked our folks to the bone and this was a good way of giving back to them and saying thank you.”
While employees may have 1,000 fewer hours each year, they’re not taking a pay hit as salaries and pay rates will remain the same, only with shorter hours.
Currently, starting basic wages at AMR in Blount County are $11.50 an hour. EMT advance positions start at $13 an hour. Paramedics start at $17.25 an hour, Rodgers said.
Spencer said crews already are responding well to the 24/72 model, noting less hours means fewer worker stress and, ultimately, better patient care.
“At the end of the day, if we take care of our people, we take care of our customers and our community,” he said.
There are other benefits to the model, too.
In a time when EMS services across the nation are facing employee shortages, having a better work situation makes recruiting easier.
For Blount, this is vital, the AMR officials said.
Rodgers and Spencer said cutting back hours doesn’t decrease the services they’re giving to the county. That’s because they’re trying to get a bigger staff. Currently, Blount AMR has about 54 full-time employees and 42 part-timers, Rodgers said, with around six going through training programs.
He said interest in joining Blount’s AMR is up after the move to 24/72 shifts.
“This makes us a more enticing employer of choice,” Spencer added, noting he hopes the move will attract both new talent and experienced paramedics, especially as the local population grows.
Blount EMS board Chairman and Blount County General Services Director Don Stallions agreed the shift may help grow AMR’s force and foster a better work environment.
Stallions sits down with Rodgers each month to look at how the company is meeting its county-contracted requirements.
AMR’s contract with Blount commits the company to pay fines when ambulances don’t show up to calls within 10 minutes for 90% of calls in a month; if crews go under 90%, fines start to accumulate.
Additionally, AMR pays fines if an ambulance shows up more than 15 minutes after a call comes in.
Since Jan. 1, AMR has accumulated $415,100 in fines, according to county data.
The company asked for fine exemptions through March, however, as they struggled to catch up with pandemic backlash, so they’ve only had to pay fines from April through June.
It’s still been expensive. Fines for those three months alone totaled $211,750.
“We’d definitely like to see those numbers decrease,” Stallions said. The upside to increased fines is that the Blount EMS board doles out the fine money to 11 local agencies for needed resources.
Sandwiched between tired employees and hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines is another factor. Blount is currently paying for a countywide EMS assessment. AMR is part of that assessment.
The company’s contract is up in June 2022 — AMR and any other interested local EMS service will have to bid for it — and Spencer and Rodgers acknowledged the move to 24/72 shifts will be good not only for workers and the community but for the assessment outcome, too.
However, both men emphasized a quality employee environment, not the assessment alone, was their primary goal.