“Crisis Level” at Greenville EMS

A Timeline of the Scandal That Could Prove Dangerous

Evan Smith
February 13, 2019 - 4:06 pm
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You’ve likely seen the news of ongoing chaos at the Greenville EMS. Here we bring you a full, in-depth report on exactly what’s going on – and what it means to you.

 

Early January: A survey and a firing

A former Greenville County EMS employee, Laura Clanton, was responsible for sending out the results of an internal survey of EMS workers. The survey found that a full third of the more than 100 staff members polled were “very seriously considering” quitting their jobs over the past year. Sixty one percent of workers said this was due to dissatisfaction with leadership. Actual responses on the survey include:

“Severely overworked and understaffed. Leadership is negative and there is no positive future… without drastic changes.”

“This place has become a joke.”

“The leadership is the largest and worst issue.”

“We have diabetics who are not allowed to eat. It is made more difficult when you’re not allowed to use a restroom. That is not acceptable. It’s reached a crisis level.”

But just before she could send out the results, Clanton was fired.

 

January 14: A petition appears on Change.org in response to Clanton’s firing, calling out the administration of the Greenville County EMS for a range of issues.

The petition had numerous grievances, mostly centered on poor leadership and a toxic culture of overworking staff, while also noting the dangerous implications of this on Greenville residents who need help during an emergency.

Let’s go through it issue by issue:

Firstly, the petition noted the administration’s refusal to measure or publish accurate response times. Greenville County has a goal to achieve an average response time of no more than 12 minutes and 30 seconds for every call. Most of the time, EMS workers say, that goal is not met. Anecdotal evidence places most ambulance arrivals at closer to 20 minutes – far too long, EMS workers say, for someone having a heart attack or a child in serious danger. “These are not isolated or occasional occurrences but what happens every day,” the petition claims.

The petition went on to say the administration has been negligent in its duties to the community by not adding additional ambulances for more than a decade. This stall in new ambulances occurred during a rapidly growing population and an exponentially increased number of 911 calls, the petition notes. “As a result,” it goes on to say, “There are many times each day that there are no ambulances available to respond to an emergency in our community (also known as “Level Zero”).

The petition then claims that in instances when an ambulance from Greenville is not available, a private ambulance service may be sent out, leading to unexpectedly massive costs for the individual needing assistance. At the same time, the petition argues that there is a “complete disregard of the safety, health and well begin of the [EMS workers]” who are often “held over for hours after their shift should be complete to continue to run calls resulting in dangerous levels of fatigue.”

EMS workers are also not allowed to take breaks for any reason because of the severe staffing crisis, a crisis the administration has failed to recognize or address, workers say.

All in all, the petition says these grievances has led to a toxic culture and an “all-time-low moral” for workers. Training has been on the decline (one way to cut immediate costs) which had led to a dip in the skill level of workers.

And on top of all this, the Director and Deputy Director of the EMS have been involved in a very public lawsuit because of their long-term affair, and a previous Captain of Operations was caught having an affair on county time. Such unprofessional behavior has yet to be addressed by any county officials, the petition claims.

“We expect that immediate action will be taken by council members and the county administrators to remove these individuals from these positions and enact proactive strategies that will remedy the crisis at hand.”

 

January 15: Retired EMS employees agree with the petition, ask for serious change.

Retired EMS paramedics Doug Hooper and Mike Huggins, both of whom spent more than 30 years working for Greenville EMS, told WSPA that the petition was accurate.

“Greenville County is growing leaps and bounds… could not keep up with the call volume anymore,” Hooper said in an interview with WSPA. “They run call after call after call. A 12 hour shift becomes 13, 14, 15 hours.”

 

January 17: Tim Gault, the director of EMS for Greenville County, files for retirement.

City council members confirmed that Gault put in his retirement papers. Gault had been working as a paramedic since 1991. Gault said it had nothing to do with the petition calling him out toxic leadership.

But paramedics currently on staff weren’t buying that argument.

One paramedic, who spoke anonymously to avoid retribution, told WSPA:

“To our knowledge and from what crews were told, Tim Gault had no plans on retiring. Some employees find the timing suspect. Considering the issues of transparency between administration and field crews, it would be an insult if they are attempting to obscure the truth behind his departure.”

 

January 18: Black leaders demand public hearings on EMS problems

Headed by Donald Ray Smith, who leads the nonprofit group Vision 25, leaders in the black community demanded that EMS employees should be allowed to speak in an open forum about the department’s challenges without fear of retribution.

“We do not want to see these issues swept under the carpet or rug by the utilizations of a consultant without a public hearing from those employees,” Smith said.

 

January 29: County officials propose adding more EMS workers, but current staff says that’s not enough

A proposal by Greenville County officials to add 30 additional first responders and six ambulances to the EMS – intended as an olive branch to the community after the initial concerns were leveled – was met with doubts by current employees.

The proposal would cost $1.3 million to hire the new paramedics and purchase the new vehicles, but current paramedics said it didn’t go far enough, nor did it address other pertinent concerns.

 “I’m not sure how they intend to fill 30 new positions when they have 20 that they are unable to fill now,” said Laura Clanton, the employee whose firing jump-started the controversy.

Other previous employees said the terrible working conditions revealed by the scandal will hinder the County’s ability to bring in qualified applicants at this time.

 

As of now, the controversy is ongoing. But workers say the problem will only get worse, as call volume is expected to continue rising as more people move into the County.

 

 

 

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