Tuesday, September 8, 2009

IT'S YOUR MONEY: Spending Money to Save Money?

By Melissa Yeager, WINK News

FORT MYERS, FLA-- You might not think of your ambulances and your paramedics as a business, but that's what six sigma teaches public safety staff to do.

Over the past 3 years, Lee County EMS has used your tax money to pay to train its employees in Six Sigma--a program first implemented by Motorola to help identify waste, inefficiencies, and help save money.

Lee County EMS Captain Warren Panem says it has changed the culture of his department.

"In years past we get an idea for a piece of medical equipment and we all think, 'that's a great idea' and we work off emotion and that's what we want to get away from," Panem told CALL FOR ACTION describing how the program has changed his department.

"Yes, it's nice to do the latest and greatest in medicine, but if it doesn't work then why do it? And those are the kinds of dollars we are saving by implementing this program," said Panem.

EMS operations chief Kim Dickerson says the program has helped her staff-trained in medicine-to focus on finding the root cause of a problem.

"You may be doing a process that's got too many extra steps in it which cause extra work or extra grief," said Dickerson.

"Some people might think it sounds like common sense to be able to look at things and save money," said CALL FOR ACTION reporter Melissa Yeager.

"Common sense isn't so common," said Panem. "It's an educated common sense and I think that's what this whole process has done for us."

Six Sigma training doesn't come cheap.

For more than 100-thousand dollars of your tax money, here's what you got:

82 employees trained at the basic white belt status costing 28 thousand dollars.

White belt training gives employees *a general overview* of six sigma.

To learn more specifics of six sigma employees have to get their yellow belt.

So the county spent another 36-thousand getting 32 employees yellow belt status.

But to learn how to use the process, you have to earn a green belt.

12 employees made it to this stage at a price tag of 18-thousand dollars.

It didn't end there.

The county spent 25-thousand dollars getting 6 employees their black belts.

And another 12-thousand dollars to have two employees certified as master black belts--meaning they are certified to teach other people about the program.

All of that adds up to 119-thousand dollars over a three year period training just ems workers on this program.

By the way, employees also wracked up about 43-thousand in overtime going to six sigma training.

"Some people might say it sounds weird to spend money on training to save money? what would you say to those people." asked CALL FOR ACTION reporter Melissa Yeager.

"Education is the key to success in life and in anything that you do and this is something that helped give our staff the tools that they needed," said Dickerson.

So did the process save money?

In July, a CALL FOR ACTION investigation uncovered $6.2 million dollars spent on EMS overtime-- more than any other Lee County agency.

EMS says so far in 2009, they've saved about 200-thousand dollars in overtime because they were paying more attention with the down economy and because six sigma helped them improve their hiring process.

"That's making for a happier employee and and the morale has increased tremendously. Can you put a dollar figure on morale? Probably not, but you can measure the fact that our overtime costs have decreased significantly," said Panem.

Response times have also improved and they credit six sigma.

"Every minute that we save on average in the organization in a year, we save 138-thousand dollars," said Panem, "Over the past two years we've decreased our average by six minutes."

EMS says that's a total savings of 800-thousand dollars because they don't have to keep as many ambulances on the road at once.

"So by us taking a look at what most directly effects our organization allows us to allocate that money in the right direction, so down the road when the money starts getting tighter our decision making is better as far as what's important to us and what is not," said Dickerson.

Lee County EMS is the only organization in Lee County to undergo this training.

Part of your money was spent getting some of their employees certified as six sigma trainers.

Now they say those employees will be able to teach the rest of the county how to use the practices to become more efficient.


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