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Compromise emerges over monitoring EMS staff change-over

Thursday, March 1, 2012 by Michael Kanin

City management has agreed to authorize a work group to observe staffing issues that may arise when the Austin/Travis County Emergency Medical System changes its ambulance staffing configuration. Though the group will only have purview over any staff scheduling issues that may come up, it seemed enough to convince Council Member Bill Spelman to delay action on a resolution he had placed on this morning’s agenda to address the issue.


If completed, the Austin/Travis County EMS staffing change would move ambulance crews from their current two paramedic set-up to a system where a paramedic would be paired with an emergency medical technician, or EMT. Paramedics can tackle more advanced medical situations, while EMTs perform basic critical care.


City management could make the change with little input from Council. Any permanent switch might then be rolled into the upcoming meet-and-confer agreement that will be discussed by management and the Austin/Travis County EMS Employee Association in 2013.


The plan has met with skepticism both from Council members and from members of the city’s Public Safety Commission (See In Fact Daily, Feb. 9, 2012). City officials will pilot the idea before moving forward with system-wide implementation.


Spelman addressed the situation at a work session Tuesday. “Right now there is no formal proposal governing the transition from two paramedics to one and one,” he said. Had he brought it forward, his resolution would have created a team made up of management and rank and file to evaluate the effectiveness of the transition. It also would have addressed a bump in pay for paramedics who pilot the program.


“The public interest here is in making sure that this pilot program is as successful as it can be,” Spelman told In Fact Daily. For Spelman, this means that paramedics are compensated adequately and that there is an agreement on scheduling between the union and rank and file. He plans to keep the resolution in his back pocket, just to be sure that management and employees continue to talk about the issues.


City Manager Marc Ott drew a line. “I just want to be mindful that this is an issue that…management enjoys some prerogative to simply do,” he said. “It has not been my intent to bring a specific proposal to Council seeking your approval because that is not required. However, I do recognize that this is a significant and fundamental change in operations from a staffing standpoint, so you certainly have every reason, we recognize, to want to understand how we go about doing this.”


Word of a compromise came Wednesday. In a letter to Austin/Travis County EMS Employee Association head Steve Stewart, Austin/Travis County EMS chief Ernie Rodriguez laid out a plan for some oversight. “I recognize that the implementation of this new staffing configuration presents distinctive concerns,” he wrote. “To address these concerns, I agree to the creation of a scheduling workgroup.”


Rodriguez continued to lay out four parameters for the group. These include the fact that the group will make its recommendations to him, that it will be limited to scheduling issues only, that it will consist of four members selected by the union and four members selected by Rodriguez, and that it will meet monthly for a period of six months. Rodriguez left room for the group to issue separate reports should they not reach a consensus.

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