Aiken County EMS workers leaving in high numbers

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Some say it's a matter of life and death: the turnover rate of Aiken County emergency workers.

They're leaving at a high rate to work for smaller counties who pay more.

Last year Aiken County EMS was short 9 workers.

County council passed a 17 percent pay raise to change that.

Now EMS is short 14 workers.

The county is trying to figure out what's going wrong.

After a year on the job, Mike King will work his last shift for Aiken County EMS on Thursday.

“Basically it was a salary issue,” says King. “I was offered more money to do the same job in another county.”

Mike is taking a job for the smaller Saluda County that pays 30 percent more.

Despite a recent raise, 18 percent of Aiken County EMS workers quit last year.

Al Gunter, who left Aiken County EMS in October, is making more money working for Barnwell County.

But he says the high turnover isn't just about dollars.

“It’s quite obvious that it's not an issue with pay. There is a problem there with management,” Gunter says.

And this issue affects everyone in Aiken County.

“There’s people actually dying today because of these inadequacies,” Gunter says.

If too many calls come in at once, ambulances would have to be called in from Aiken, which could take 45 minutes. In the case of a heart attack, that could be too long.

Aiken County Administrator Clay Killian is aware of the issue.

“We’ve been working with Aiken Tech on some training programs,” Killian says. “They’ve got some ideas for us that we're trying to develop how to present to the committee in a couple of weeks.”

But Killian wouldn't tell us what changes he'd like to see before the meeting.

Proctor Bush is on the committee that will hear Killian’s ideas and says this all comes down to pay.

“A lot of people pay more to have their hair cut, to have their lawn mowed, have their house cleaned than they're willing to pay someone who will save their life,” says Bush.

But all agree, whatever's wrong needs to be fixed soon.

The committee meeting to discuss the EMS issues is March 14th.

If you compare basic EMT pay in South Carolina counties right now, Aiken County is still behind.

Pay for Aiken County basic EMT workers starts at about $9 an hour; or, with their built in overtime, about $26,000 a year.

Edgefield County has one-sixth the population and one-fourth the amount of square mileage. But EMT pay there starts at about $11 an hour.

In Saluda County, which is slightly smaller than Edgefield County, EMT pay starts at $41,000 a year.