WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) — Sedgwick County continues to feel the pinch in their EMS department.

According to Sedgwick County, EMS is down 17 of their 140 positions.

Commissioner Jim Howell says the department is still recovering from the large number of staff that left in 2019 and 2020 due to issues with old leadership.

“We’ve done everything we possibly can to address the things we could touch. You know, whether it be salary or incentives and sign-on bonuses. We have a training program now, which is fully funded,” Howell said.

On top of the already existing vacancies. 18 employees are out due to testing positive or needing to quarantine from COVID, stretching their staff even thinner.

A common practice in the EMS industry is calculating unit hour utilization (UHU). This is the total number of hours ambulances are staffed and available to respond divided by the total number of transports. It is used as a measure of efficiency. The higher the UHU, the lower the cost of transportation for the customer. UHU is impacted by response time standards and the degree of difficulty in providing coverage.

The department averages 200 calls a day, and the number of calls has been increasing each month since November. During the first week of 2022, their UHU is sitting at .69, double the national average.

“Burnout is a great concern. Actually, if you overuse the same staff too much, it actually causes damage to the morale within the department. They feel like they can’t, they can’t live their life; their family time goes down, their quality of life goes down. It’s a big problem,” Howell said.

Howell says he does expect staffing shortages to improve in the coming months — hopeful the COVID numbers may be peaking.

He also remains hopeful a new director will improve recruiting.