AIKEN, S.C. (WJBF) — It’s a troubling – and potentially life-threatening – situation that the Aiken County Emergency Medical Services Department continues to work to resolve EMS challenges.
“It’s something that keeps us awake at night,” Aiken County Administrator Clay Killian said.
In 2022, county and private ambulance services received more than 23,000 calls in Aiken County.
“We do not have any plans to fully replace the privates or to eliminate them from the system,” Aiken County Council Chairman Gary Bunker told NewsChannel 6’s Aiken Bureau Chief Shawn Cabbagestalk. “I’d like to see at least two more stand up so we could have up to 12 in Aiken County,” he added.
New data shows that in August alone, there weren’t enough ambulances available in the county to answer more than 70 calls. And so far in September, vehicles weren’t available for nearly 40 calls. Other patients waited more than 160 times for services to arrive.
“We even had some status zeros one day when we had 12 or 13 vehicles. Certainly call volume can also spike to overwhelm even when we have most of the folks,” Bunker said.
Dispatchers use Status Zero when there are no ambulances available to respond. County leaders say the issue isn’t just an Aiken County problem. Across the country, more people are leaving the profession than entering. Higher pay, more options for EMS workers to further their education, and changing the shift schedules could fix the issue.
“So if we went to 24, 72, we would have to hire 40 additional EMTs in an exceedingly difficult market,” he said. “I just want to make sure that our pay and benefits are attractive enough that all things are equal and folks want to come work for Aiken County,” Bunker added.
Leaders are also working to make dispatch more efficient for differentiating between calls.
“There are some other models and some other software and perhaps some special dedicated dispatchers for EMS that we could hire that would assist in that process. That would be more of an improvement and not a solution to the whole thing,” he added.