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W.Va. Seeks Solution to Paramedic Shortage

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- Preston County, W.Va., commissioners want the state to survey local ambulance services and the county hospital for possible solutions to a shortage of paramedics.

County Medical Director Dr. Fred Conley, who also works in the Preston Memorial Hospital Emergency Department, pointed to a survey conducted by the West Virginia EMS Technical Service Network's Fairmont office last year. The survey shows that in the first nine months of 2007, Preston ambulance calls were nearly evenly split between advanced life support and basic life support calls.

Advanced life support calls involve a paramedic or nurse. Basic life support calls are done by EMTs. All 27 other counties surveyed, including Taylor, handled more advance runs than basic in that time.

Conley has worked with county emergency medical responders since about 1980.

"I've watched it grow over the years, and they do a wonderful job," he said. "We just don't have enough of them."

Preston has eight volunteer ambulance squads. One, KAMP Ambulance, has a paid squad for two shifts on weekend days, and Preston Memorial pays a paramedic who works through its emergency department.

Conley and county Emergency Management/911 Director Duane Hamilton, who is a paramedic and lifelong volunteer with area services, said people must spend more time and money to train now. Still, salaries for medics are seldom enough to live on in this area, they said. Hamilton said paramedics are being drawn to other areas with better salaries.

"An EMT gets paid less than somebody working in McDonald's, in a lot of counties," Hamilton said.

Preston's volunteer medics also have to raise money to keep the squad going, he noted.

"You can't say enough about their volunteer spirit, but they're just wearing out, going out night after night," Dr. Conley said.

Commissioners Vicki Cole, Craig Jennings and Dave Price agreed to contact the Technical Support Network, which will conduct a free survey and interviews with each ambulance squad and the hospital. The network will make suggestions based on the results.

Jennings suggested squads be contacted to let them know nothing is intended to interfere with their work, only to make it better for everyone.

Also at Friday's special meeting, commissioners agreed to pay $600 per month rent to place police, fire and EMS radios on a tower owned by Subcarrier Communications Inc., until the Caddell Tower is rebuilt. A concrete truck knocked over the county's tower last week, while the state worked to build a new tower nearby.

Hamilton has prepared a $42,023 estimate for the insurance company to have the county's tower rebuilt. The county has been using a temporary tower since the accident, but renting the space for antennas on the Subcarrier tower will work more efficiently, Hamilton said.

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