Manatee EMS workers facing burnout, county public safety director says

skennedy@bradenton.comJune 11, 2014 

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An ambulance crosses the DeSoto Bridge into Bradenton on its way to Manatee Memorial Hospital.GRANT JEFFERIES/Bradenton Herald

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MANATEE -- Saying his employees are facing burnout, the Manatee County public safety director Tuesday asked for additional staff positions to lessen the load carried by emergency workers.

"There is a threshold of how much (overtime) people are willing to work," said Ron Koper, public safety director, during a budget workshop with the Manatee County Commission. "That really hurts morale."

The staff, which operates 24/7, 365 days a year, has been stretched so thin many workers are at a breaking point, Koper said.

"Burnout is very, very, very common," said Commissioner Carol Whitmore, who is a nurse.

"When the day arrives we stop cutting, this is one of the highest priorities," said County Administrator Ed Hunzeker, referring to years of hacking money out of the budget during a long, severe recession.

Koper requested the following added positions, according to county documents:

[ ] $236,880 to provide an ambulance for the U.S. 41 corridor to cover the busiest

county areas from 10 a.m.-10 p.m. It would be staffed by four charge paramedics working 12-hour shifts.

[ ] $171,000 for three paramedics to man "float positions" to cover shifts as needed.

[ ] $116,000 for two emergency communications operators to man "float positions" to cover shifts as needed.

None of the requests are included in the current $527 million budget proposal, so commissioners will have to cut something else or raise the money another way to fund them, officials said.

A portion of the funds needed could be supplied by reducing overtime, said Hunzeker.

Commissioner John Chappie was concerned about EMS staff trying to keep up with thousands of new residents and tourists that have come to Manatee County recently.

"I'm just concerned about the response times," he said, adding the department does "an amazing job" despite staffing difficulties.

Contract negotiations continue with the International Association of EMTs & Paramedics, the union representing emergency workers, which is seeking its first contract with the county, Koper said.

The union includes about 110 members, including EMTs, paramedics, charge paramedics and firefighter paramedics, officials have said.

In other action, patron counts over the last year have leapt anywhere from 15 percent to 30 percent over last year at the Braden River Library, 4915 53rd Ave. E., according to Cheri Coryea, county neighborhood services director.

"We have really been focused on expansion, potentially something in the eastern part of the county," or an addition to the Braden River Library, said Coryea.

Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7031. Follow her on Twitter @sarawrites.

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