MAURY COUNTY, Tenn. (WKRN) — Maury Regional Medical Center EMS responds to calls across Lewis, Maury, and Wayne counties.

“We just topped over 15,000 calls for this year, year to date, and that’s a pretty big milestone,” explains Michael Dunavant the Interim Director at Maury Regional Medical Center EMS.

The demand is higher than ever, but the team, like so many others in Middle Tennessee, found themselves with dozens of unfilled positions.

“A lot of these crew members, [Advancle Life Support] and [Basic Life Support] have gone above and beyond knowing that we have empty shifts,” says John Shadix, Basic Life Support Supervisor at Maury Regional EMS.

Picking up extra shifts wasn’t a long-term sustainable plan so the group went to the drawing board to solve the problem plaguing emergency response departments nationwide.

“We have a South Central Region Director Association. All the directors meet in this region, and we communicate our problems. We talk about our staffing needs. We try to get to do what’s better,” Dunavant says.

Dunavant brought the findings back to Maury Regional, and together with hospital administration, they made changes to recruit talent.

“Some of that was competitive benefits, competitive pay ranges, we changed our base rates, we changed our benefits packages,” Dunavant explains. “That’s helped out tremendously.”

Another major complaint from employees was a lack of work-life balance.

“Studies have been showing throughout the state of Tennessee, and elsewhere, that most services are going to 24/72 utilities. So, you work one day off, and you get three days off,” Dunavant says.

Instead of the 24/48s that have been standard for years, employees now go from working 10 days a month to 7.

“That gives you more quality time with your family,” Dunavant says.

There’s also a renewed focus on advancement.

“If you start on the BLS side, as a basic EMT, we will pay for you to go back to advanced school,” Shadix says. “Once you get your advanced license, if you want to go on to paramedic school, Maury will pay for you to go to paramedic school.”

It’s that type of forward-thinking that’s attracting long-term employees.

“When I came to Maury Regional it was something that set it apart from somewhere else where I worked for a smaller county south of here,” explains Devin Dickey who has advanced to EMS Training Manager.

Dunavant recognizes smaller counties can’t compete with privately owned services and lawmakers agree and are taking steps to help the issue.

Until recently in Tennessee, ambulance service was not deemed an essential service that the government was required by law to provide or fund. Several lawmakers set out to change that by passing a new law that went into effect in March 2021.