Mecklenburg EMS struggling with staff shortages as COVID-19 transports spike

CHARLOTTE — Sharon Taulbert knows how important it is to get vaccinated. She is the deputy director of professional services at Mecklenburg Emergency Medical Services.

“My family, we lost my dad in January from COVID,” she told Channel 9′s Gina Esposito.

She said her father, 80-year-old Donald Belle, died just two weeks before he was eligible for the vaccine.

“I had been out to the Bojangles arena to see what public health had sent up and told him we’re going to have the vaccines. And that was really one of the last conversations I had with him. He was excited about the potential,” she said.

Taulbert said Mecklenburg EMS is requiring every employee to get vaccinated by Oct. 22. For employees who don’t submit a medical or religious exemption, they could lose their job. But Taulbert said the agency can’t afford to lose anyone right now. She said staff are stressed and turnover is at an all-time high.

“I think our biggest concern is our staffing at this point in time,” she said. “We have just over 40 vacancies. That’s our field providers, so that’s EMTs and paramedics.”

Taulbert said new recruitment strategies are underway, including a county-approved bonus for employees which raised pay for a paramedic from around $18/hour to $21.50/hour. Still, new hires aren’t coming in fast enough and the system is starting to get overwhelmed.

“For the whole month of June, we transported one COVID positive patient a day. And at the last few weeks of July, August, we saw a big uptick,” said Deputy Director Jon Studnek. “We’re averaging 15 COVID transports a day. And on Saturday, we did 20 COVID positive transports.”

Due to the increase, employees are now working mandatory overtime, and offered bonuses for taking on certain shifts. They’re still responding to 911 calls in a timely manner, but Studnek said it’s a ticking time bomb.

“Unfortunately, if cases start to rise in our community and people don’t get vaccinated, and we continue to see high increases in call volumes, we’re going to have to take other interventions to manage our system and we’re working on those interventions right now,” he said.

Currently, three employees are out with COVID-19, including one breakthrough case. The other two were unvaccinated.

Taulbert said now is the time to get vaccinated.

“For those who have not taken that opportunity, I would encourage you to do so,” she said.

Anyone interested in applying for a position at Mecklenburg EMS can go to www.medic911.com.

(WATCH: Medic workers honored during national EMS week)