open letter to the Pickens County Council,
name is Tommy M. Page, and up until about three weeks ago I was a
Paramedic and Field Training Officer for PCEMS.
month, another citizen approached County Council during the monthly
meeting with a list of concerns about the current state of our County
EMS system, and you yourselves had a lengthy discussion on some of
those matters later in that meeting. First of all, allow me to
emphatically state that I was not the employee she had referenced in
her statement, though many of her issues seemed to be lifted from the
pages of my letter of resignation, the same letter that Administrator
Roper referenced later that evening.
all accounts, that letter has grown quite a set of legs and has made
its way to many, if not all, of your desks, and it seems that many
conversations may have been initiated on account of it.
served this county for ten years, and had wholeheartedly hoped to
retire here. I, like most of the employees of PCEMS, love the people
I was honored to work with like family, and I know that, by far, our
EMS service would be the employer of choice for a great many
providers throughout the upstate, were it not for several major
problems that have come to light during the current pandemic.
have been made aware by many whom I have spoken with that my
departure has caused a fair deal of pain and confusion in my wake,
and for that I am truly sorry. Unfortunately, as all employees of
Pickens County have been made unofficially aware, for one to approach
or address this council as an employee means that one will likely no
longer be employed here shortly thereafter, as though their rights as
a citizen of this county are suspended if they wish to continue their
feel the things I intend to say need to be brought to your attention
in a public forum, so that you and the citizens of Pickens County
will have a better understanding of the general morale and beliefs of
those you charge with maintaining the public's safety and well-being.
felt forced to quit a job I loved so I could say what I feel I have
been called on to say. I beg you to weigh that statement
meticulously, to understand the pain it brings me, to understand the
sacrifice I have made to try to better this situation.
is not a person in this county that is not but one unfortunate event
away from having their very lives in the hands of the employees of
PCEMS. An accident, an acute illness, an assault, a heart attack, or
a stroke could be waiting just around the corner for ANY of us. And
when these things happen, the employees of PCEMS are expected to be
there, to help keep each of us safe and alive, and to get us to
definitive care from a physician. The vast majority of these
employees perform this job with passion and zeal, out of genuine
concern for the well-being of those entrusted to their care.
for myself, though I am no longer employed by PCEMS, my family and I
all live here in Pickens County. My children, my parents, my sister
and her family, my brother and his family, all of them are residents
here. Many of the people reading this, I am certain, share this
commonality with me.
those not familiar, PCEMS normally has nine ambulances on duty
covering the entire county, but as of late it seems much more common
that there are only eight available, and often enough only seven. All
of us are put at greater risk when we have to shut down trucks nearly
daily because we cannot get providers to cover shifts. Even more
egregious is the increased risk these employees and those they serve
are subjected to when the needs of the service force those employees
to work harder and with fewer breaks due to both the increased call
volume and the exacerbation of said volume as the increasing call
load is being shifted onto a fewer number of responders.
primary reason this is occurring is not because of a limited number
of personnel to pull from on any roster, as every EMS system in the
country is currently having the same issues due to the COVID
Pandemic. I along with many of the current employees of PCEMS
wholeheartedly believe this is due to the fact that the hourly rate
of pay for the part-time employees we need to cover shifts is nowhere
near high enough to incentivize them to work our open shifts when our
full-time employees must be out for whatever reason.
not misunderstand, I am not speaking about setting pay rates
competitively based on a projected annual salary, but on the base
HOURLY rate offered by those services that also need this vital and
very limited resource.
part-time employees have bills to pay, families to support, and per
the numbers being provided on the COVID incidence rate in our county,
every time they pick up a shift they risk an exposure, no matter how
well protected they may be. It is only natural that these part-time
employees will only pick up shifts for which they feel they will be
adequately compensated, and sadly that typically means service to the
always, there are of course some outliers, as we do have a handful of
part-time employees that do not work EMS as their primary source of
employment and who serve simply for the love of serving, and some
that love working with our employees enough that they would prefer to
work here rather than elsewhere, but those precious few are already
doing all that they can. The numbers do not lie, those precious few
cannot keep our trucks rolling on their own, we need all the hands we
can get, and that means hourly pay has to be brought up to or above
the levels offered around us, period.
only way to realistically have any chance of getting part-time
employees to work our open shifts is to offer truly competitive, or
preferably even better, pay than those services around us. And with
the increased work load being put on our crews, they are becoming
more and more exhausted, they are increasing their exposure to
illness and injury, and they are feeling very unappreciated,
especially in the face of all that they have done for the citizens of
the county in the past two years.
even the best care provider can become tired enough to miss something
or to make a mistake, and mistakes in this profession can cost lives.
am aware that PCEMS was just awarded raises, but in all honesty many
of the employees of PCEMS felt that the average raise of just
$0.50-0.75 an hour in the face of what they have been through over
the past twenty or so months was pitifully insufficient, and some
even described it to me as “insulting.” I am acutely aware that I
got very lucky when I found my new employment, and feel no shame in
stating that my new base rate is more than five dollars an hour
higher than what I was making when I left PCEMS, with that being
before any shift differentials or COVID incentives offered by my new
employer (which are quite significant, again in the ranges of several
dollars per hour, not mere cents).
say this not as a brag or boast, but in an attempt to show what we
are up against competitively on wages. In fact, were the staffing
issues to be resolved, I'd happily take a pay cut to return, though I
have my doubts as to whether or not that would even be possible after
this parlance. Part-time employees will almost always turn down a
shift making seventeen dollars an hour in favor of a shift making
thirty, or even considerably more given the incentives being offered
at some local services. And, human nature and personal necessity
being what it is, if the pay rate of PCEMS part-time personnel is
raised to the point it will need to be to get our shifts covered,
full-time rates will have to increase as well, unless the goal is to
see a massive shift of full-time personnel transferring to part-time.
Given that anytime an EMS employee takes or uses vacation or sick
time they actually lose money from their paycheck, most would forgo
other benefits for the increased pay rate hands down, and find
another source of insurance and such through a different full-time
employer or elsewhere.
overtime that is touted as the reason PCEMS hourly pay is so low when
compared to surrounding services is completely lost when our
employees need to take time for self care, often resulting in a loss
of hundreds of dollars on a paycheck.
argument can be made that no other department in the Pickens County
infrastructure gets paid their overtime rate when they use their
vacation or sick-time, but might I not only inquire which other
department literally has the lives of our citizens in their hands as
a default description of their employment, but also which other
departments work 24 hours at a time with ZERO mandated or protected
breaks for basic human needs (such as food, bathroom needs, or even
sleep so that accidents are not exacerbated by increasing
exhaustion)? The only departments I can think of that could possibly
relate would be Law Enforcement and Fire Protection Services, and
they, too, are woefully underpaid and underappreciated, truth be
told. The people serving our community in PCEMS answer the call to
duty throughout the day, regardless of the time or how recently ran
their last call, and they deserve to be treated and compensated as
though we actually appreciate what they do for our citizens.
of our newer and younger employees have never received a single
time-in-service raise, and, in fact, during my ten year service I can
only recall a single successful salary study that raised pay rates in
that fashion, though afterwards it was widely believed that it had
been only due to an accounting error that rates had been raised to
the levels that they were. When this happened, though, PCEMS was the
highest paid EMS service in the area, and we experienced a massive
hiring boon, allowing us to bring on some of the most talented
providers available locally.
being said, when PCEMS pay rates were again surpassed by the local
average, many left for greener pastures, so to speak. And again
making an example of myself, we move forward to the present, to when
I was still only making the base starting rate for FTO pay when I
resigned after ten years, with nearly half that as an FTO and with my
being recognized twice by County Council as the PCEMS Employee of the
Year (2012 & 2018) during my employment.
the lives and well-being of our citizens are as important to us as
they should be, EMS should be the one department that would always be
given the utmost priority in budget considerations, not just in
payroll but in needed equipment, supplies, and training materials.
my knowledge, every budget that had been submitted by any of the
numerous directors that have served over the past ten years was
slashed horrendously by the finance department prior even to any
committee considerations, with our department heads then having to go
before a committee to fight for what remained, often with minimal
those on the outside of those decisions looking in, it seems as
though the lives of our citizens are of much less importance than
road maintenance, or a new jail, or Sister-City projects, or even
replacing the trees outside the Administration Building because those
that were originally there weren't “native species” and thus not
in line with the desired aesthetic. When the lives of our family,
friends, and loved ones are on the line, we shouldn't have to fight
to have the personnel, tools, and up-to-date skills needed to give
the best possible treatment for our citizens.
understand that Administrator Roper is going to be riding with a
PCEMS Supervisor to experience just what PCEMS does. While I
appreciate that efforts are being made to experience what working EMS
is like, might I suggest that rather than just one representative of
the administration or Council scheduling a few hours riding with a
Supervisor, EACH of you do a ride-along with one of the Easley crews
for a full 24 hour shift on a day when one, or even two, of the three
Easley units has been placed out of service due to under-staffing? As
often as it has been occurring as of late, a day such as that should
not be hard to schedule, and a true picture of what PCEMS does for
this county could then be seen. See what it is like first hand to run
three or four calls back-to-back while having to hold your bladder,
to order a meal that you might get to take a bite of four hours
later, or to run calls for fourteen or sixteen straight hours only to
have the tones drop for more calls every time you sit down or lay
your head on a pillow.
hope that I have been able to effectively convey how serious this
matter truly is. I personally know of several PCEMS employees already
looking at other employment, and several more strongly considering
doing the same. If even only those that I know of do make that jump,
PCEMS will be very hard pressed to keep the number of shut down units
to merely one or two trucks per day. And if that happens, it will
very much appear that the citizens of Pickens County are being placed
at an unnecessarily and highly increased risk because the bottom line
was deemed more important than their safety and well being.
should never, ever, be more important than lives, especially when the
funds that could be used to fix these problems are there and
available. For example, Pickens County received $24,645,730 from the
federal government via the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, and
utilization of this money for funding the issues I have addressed
appears to be specifically both covered and allowable.
and Administrator Roper, the citizens and voters of Pickens County
are now relying on you for your guidance and heartfelt concern in
addressing these issues. In fact, many of them may soon have their
lives riding on it. All it takes is one unfortunate event.
and with hope,