MINNEAPOLIS (FOX 9) – Paramedics are responsible for caring for the hurt and the sick every day. But union paramedics in Hennepin County now worry that after they retire, they won’t have a specific health care benefit to fall back on if they get sick themselves.
The Hennepin County Association of Paramedics and EMTs, the union representing the paramedics and dispatchers from Hennepin EMS, argued in a Facebook post on Thursday that the dedication of their longtime members isn’t being acknowledged by Hennepin Healthcare.
“We have Tim Beager. He has served the residents of Hennepin County for over 40 years as a paramedic. Mike Christian and Kelly Munn. These gentlemen, these paramedics are on the brink of retirement, and they’re talking about hundreds of hours of earned sick time,” said Sam Erickson, vice president of the Hennepin County Association of Paramedics and EMTs, or HCAPE.
The public employees from HCAPE want to put their earned sick time into a tax-free bank as part of a Health Care Savings Plan offered by the state of Minnesota.
According to the Minnesota State Retirement System’s website, the Health Care Savings Plan is an employer-sponsored program available to public employees. Regardless of their age, they can access the money in their accounts after they leave public employment to reimburse eligible medical expenses incurred by them, their spouses, legal tax dependents and adult children up to age 26.
The union argues the benefit wouldn’t cost Hennepin Healthcare a dime but the health care organization has refused to sign the paperwork for six months.
“Some of our members are dispatchers that field the 911 calls when people in the community are sick or injured. So just to withhold this from the people who are providing that service and have been providing it for so many years is a special type of irony,” Erickson said.
The paramedics’ union contracts expire at the end of the year. Erickson said their employer has delayed providing the benefit, instead hoping to discuss it along with the larger wage and benefits package.
“I could see waiting if it was something that would require the employer to contribute monies. We’re not asking that. We’re just asking them to process our own money and allow us to use that going forward,” Erickson said.
He added it’s especially imperative that their paramedics and dispatchers who are set to retire soon get this benefit as soon as possible, as they are currently facing historic levels of 911 service and staffing shortages..
“It’s not just the time they put in, but we’re also in the busiest time of these guys’ careers,” Erickson said.
FOX 9 asked Hennepin Healthcare to respond to the union’s claims. Here’s the organization’s statement in full: “We have talked to HCAPE about this benefit and are reviewing it as part of a broader organizational assessment of the benefits available to employees. It’s essential that any benefits under consideration are offered equitably to eligible employees across our organization.”