SJ EMS response to article about levy

Dear Editor,

We wish to address the issues raised in your article and provide some correction and clarification.

In 2010, using our best estimates, we adopted a budget on the basis of $1,371,804 in levy revenue, and an assumed annual growth of 4% (the 1% plus new construction). These assumptions would yield a total tax loss of $1,440,876 at the end of 2014, not $2,671,300 as you reported, apparently inclusively of 2015/16. SJ County Assessor Charles Zalmanek used a lower assumption for that first year and an escalating amount under the 4% annual growth assumption. This may account for the disparity between our numbers and those of the Assessor. We await Mr. Zalmanek's return to his office to compare notes directly.

In any event, now EMS receives only $93,971 more than before the current levy was passed in late 2010. In other words, much of the existing EMS levy revenue has been lost due to property value decreases.

Moreover, our insurance reimbursements have decreased. Using the Assessor’s calculation of loss plus our known insurance loss in the past two years, EMS is currently $1,390,125 short of our expected incomes to date. By either estimate, EMS has been significantly shorted over the past four years. This deficit will deepen through the current levy’s remaining term. Our accomplished cost cutting has helped, but the only remedy for this budget shortfall is for voters to pass the new levy before the current levy expires.

Regarding salary questions, the EMS Director of Operations not only was promoted but also given much greater responsibilities meriting a pay raise. His former responsibilities were given to the part-time supply officer who was promoted to Logistics Coordinator in 2012. A 2014 national EMS salary survey in this month’s edition of the Journal of Emergency Medical Services shows the average Director of Operations Salary in our region as $105,482.

The Chief’s salary was $99,000 in 2010 after both a pay cut and no raises in prior years. In 2010, after significant agency growth, the San Juan County Public Hospital District #1 (SJCPHD#1) Commissioners granted a raise in the Chief’s salary, which now is $123,500. He also serves as Chief Flight Medic and works regular shifts without additional compensation--in addition to his administrative and 911 response duties. While no regional average is listed for an Executive Director, the next closest region lists an average salary of $137,392.

EMS is fully reimbursed for the District Superintendent’s salary and benefits by SJCPHD#1; that salary is represented in the EMS budget as a pass through, since the District Superintendent works for the SJCPHD#1 as mandated by the RCWs, not solely SJI EMS.

All but one of the SJI EMS positions are dual role, clinical and administrative, sparing the District additional personnel costs. Many volunteers also work for EMS.

Our entire payroll is less than half of our budget and employs not only the full-time staff of Operations/Administration, but also our paramedics, flight nurses, and more than 30 EMTs that receive stipends and limited benefits for their hard work. If not for these dedicated EMTs, a traditionally run department with all full-time staff would be unobtainable given our tax and insurance revenues.

Regarding run counts, each run entails actual work done by our flight nurses, flight paramedics and flight EMTs. Each run is not simply a heaping of numbers but instead represents real life saving services provided to our residents at each step of emergency response. The runs must be legally accounted in this way for accuracy of services and insurance billing.

In the last several years, our agency has become nationally accredited by the Commission of Accreditation of Medical Transport Systems (CAMTS), received a national award of excellence for how we serve our community, and is one of the highest rated agencies in the USA for patient satisfaction and cardiac arrest saves. This kind of quality owes to dedicated, adequately compensated, experienced professionals, typically long-term residents with knowledge of island ways.

The Law Enforcement Officer Fire Fighter 2 (LEOFF2) retirement system, under which covered employees qualify for full retirement while in their 50s, is not available to our employees. Therefore our staff must work until they are in their mid-to-late 60s. This must also be factored in when considering compensation and benefits, as well as the significant workload that each and every member of EMS carries on a daily—and nightly--basis. EMS clinicians often do not keep regular hours, or work in dry, air conditioned office spaces. They are called upon to make critical care giving decisions, often in risky circumstances. This is not your average office job, and so deserves pay commensurate with responsibilities and risks.

Much of the above is technical and tedious. But such is the nature of running an EMS agency in today's strictly regulated and audited world. We expect questions. Do call us with your comments and questions. We are here for you.

Sincerely,

SJI EMS Chief Jim Cole 

SJCPHD #1 Chairperson J. Michael Edwards 

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