Lewis County Medic One has reported a lapse in shift coverage during Wednesday and Thursday of last week in light of ongoing staff shortages, with additional shifts expected to go unfilled later this month.
Union President Brad Flexhaug stated, on the evening of March 11, one of their two stations, near Mary's Corner, had gone multiple hours without a paramedic on staff as the scheduled paramedic left early in light of a family emergency and no other employees were immediately available to fill in.
He added a second shift at the station went uncovered the evening of March 12 because of a lack of employee availability, which Flexhaug later filled himself but after a matter of hours elapsed without staff at the station.
Flexhaug had informed Medic One's Board of Directors last month of the likelihood of unfilled shifts during March, stating paramedics have been stretched thin since January when they began utilizing six employees to sustain an eight-medic system.
Medic One had gone down to six paramedics after two resigned in January, and the remaining staff have consistently been working overtime to keep all shifts covered, while officials have been waiting to consider new hires until after resolving outstanding budgetary issues.
According to the approved 2015 budget, there is only one open paramedic position at this time, though Medic One's contract with their employees' union stipulates eight positions are to be filled. In light of budgetary negations, related to a projected revenue shortfall of roughly $265,000, the union has approved a memorandum of understanding allowing this lack of staffing to continue, with an appropriate amendment to the union contract expected after budget challenges are resolved.
During the unfilled shifts, which Flexhaug said are expected to occur another two times before the end of the month according to the current schedule, there we no calls ignored due to lack of staffing at Mary's Corner, with Flexhaug stating he was told by employees at Medic One's N. Military Rd. station the evening had been "fairly slow."
He added the scheduling challenges for this month have been further compounded because one paramedic is presently on sick leave and a second is on planned personal leave.
"We're really working with four [paramedics] at this point," he said.
When responding to reports of the uncovered shifts, Medic One Board Chair Dale Nelsen clarified paramedic services were not interrupted during these times, as Lewis County Fire Districts 6, in Chehalis, and 5, in Napavine, remained available to respond as part of mutual aid agreements in place for just such circumstances.
He also acknowledged the role staffing challenges have played in keeping all shifts covered, and said he feels officials with Medic One are nearing a resolution to their budget challenges, which will allow them to begin filling the open position.
"Without that one medic, we have such a large area to cover," he said, adding he was still waiting to see the reaction of the Board of Directors to recent budget proposals during their regular meeting on March 17.
While being interviewed, Flexhaug acknowledged the lack of shift coverage is technically a violation by the employees of the union contract, and said he is not certain what action, if any, the board expects to take in this regard. When questioned on the matter, Nelsen said he is not aware of a desire among officials to pursue a grievance against the paramedics.
The next meeting of the Medic One Board of Directors is expected to place Tuesday at 7 p.m. at the headquarters of Cowlitz-Lewis Fire District 20, in Vader, during which time officials are expected to discuss a proposal for revenue sharing put forward by fire districts contracting for services from Medic One, as well as potential counter-proposals from the fire districts who own Medic One.