CITRUS COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) — Eric Johnson had, had enough. After five years at Nature Coast EMS, he turned in his resignation.
He says the combination of high stress and low pay led to his decision.
“With resource depletion [and] increased call volume, there’s no break. There’s no break,” Johnson said. “The level of burnout – I’ve been doing this a long time – and the level of burnout I’m seeing now, I have never seen in my career. And I started in Detroit, for perspective.”
Nature Coast EMS has the lowest starting pay of any EMS provider in the Tampa Bay area, with paramedics starting salary at just below $13 an hour. For comparison, Hernando County starts paramedics at $19.96 an hour, Ocala paramedics start at $20.83 and if you’re a Sunstar EMS paramedic in Pinellas County, your starting salary is $22.04.
Johnson is going to work for Sumter County.
“I’m walking in over there at 25 (dollars an hour.) It’s a $10 an hour increase over what I make here,” he said.
In just the past seven days, 10 paramedics and EMTs have turned in their resignations. Nature Coast EMS’ total workforce is down by 25 percent.
County Commissioner Jeff Kinnard says the number of talented professionals leaving is concerning.
“Oh yeah, sure it’s a concern,” Commissioner Kinnard said. “Those are trained personnel and what we’re being told is, nationwide, there is a shortage of these folks anyway.”
Commissioner Kinnard explains that a number of neighboring counties recently raised wages for first responders. Nature Coast is a non-profit and didn’t have the monetary resources to do so. So last week, it went before the county commission asking for help.
The Nature Coast EMS funding issue will be back before the commission on Sept. 14. Commissioner Kinnard hopes the issue will be resolved after that.
“I believe the board wants them to be successful. We’ve got the financial means to make sure that they are successful,” Kinnard said. “My understanding is the work environment, the culture at Nature Coast EMS, is a very good one.”
Johnson says if the county doesn’t get this situation resolved soon, the public will be at risk as response times will continue to increase.
“Oh, they most definitely will,” Johnson said. “It’s a mathematical surety. There’s no way around it. “