City gets details on fire-EMS needs

City fire officials want to expand the department’s EMS staff to meet increasing demand for hospital transfers.

Winchester Fire-EMS Chief Cathy Rigney said she would like to add a fourth ambulance for emergency calls and 10 new employees, including an EMS supervisor in the new budget year, during presentations to the Winchester Board of Commissioners Tuesday and April 2.

Rigney would also like to add a full-time ambulance for transfers from Clark Regional Medical Center, which would add some revenue to the department.

Presently, Winchester Fire-EMS handles about 65 percent of the patient transfers from CRMC, Rigney told the Winchester Board of Commissioners Tuesday. The department is missing transfers which require advanced life support, she said. A fourth emergency ambulance would help, but is not the full solution, she said.

The additional cost would add about $700,000 to the department’s budget, she said.

As a whole, the department is looking to hire eight people to bring it back to full staff. Rigney said she has about 20 applications in hand, though the process will eliminate several of those.

The transfer ambulance is staffed about 50 percent of the time, she said. Many times, the department has taken personnel assigned to work on fire trucks to cover transfers on ambulances, she said.

“We pull people off fire trucks to make (ambulance) runs more and more,” she said, often two to three times a week. “It continues happening and it will continue to happen. All of our ambulances are running.”

Salaries have also been an issue in both recruiting and retaining employees, Rigney said. Part of the problem is hospitals are hiring paramedics at $25 to $30 an hour, well above what fire departments and ambulance services can offer, she said.

Winchester employs a number of part-time patient transfer specialists, but Rigney said turnover is high as people look for full-time jobs in the field.

“It’s hard to compete with everyone that’s hiring now,” she said. “We need people. We’re trying to bring our numbers back up to par.”

Salaries at the city and county departments are in the bottom 25 percent when compared to surrounding counties, she said.

“We’re not at the bottom but we’re not where we need to be,” City Commissioner JoEllen Reed said.

Rigney said the department is not a revenue-generator for the city, but funding from transfers helps offset how much taxpayer funds are required to run the department. Clark County also contributes funding for EMS, because Winchester Fire-EMS provides EMS services for all Clark County.

During a previous discussion with the commissioners, Winchester City Manager Matt Belcher said the department billed $6.3 million but was only paid $1.2 million, after insurance and adjustments.

“We don’t get paid what we charge, and there’s absolutely nothing we can do about that,” Rigney said. “Much of that is due to the Affordable Care Act.”

The department’s billing company is collecting about 95 percent of payments owed, she said.