Durham County

Durham County EMS director placed on administrative leave

Durham County Emergency Medical Services Director Skip Kirkwood has been suspended from his duties indefinitely, he confirmed Monday.

Kirkwood was placed on administrative leave with pay Thursday, said Durham County Manager Wendell Davis.

County officials are looking into “a couple” concerns, Davis said but declined to provide more information citing state personnel privacy laws. Kirkwood will remain on leave until county officials finish their internal work, Davis said.

Kirkwood began as the EMS director in June 2013. Before coming to Durham, he served as chief of the Wake County Emergency Medical Services Division and deputy director until 2005. Kirkwood, of Wake Forest, said in an interview in February that he came to Durham for the challenge.

“This is probably the last stop in my career, and there was an opportunity to make some really big progress in the organization,” he said.

Kirkwood’s suspension comes amid low morale in the department.

About 44 percent of employees in 2016 and 39 percent in 2015 rated staff morale as low, according to EMS staff surveys, and 28 percent in 2016 and 21 percent in 2015 rated it very low.

About 9 percent of employees in 2016 and 14 percent in 2015 rated morale as high.

Only 34 percent of employees said EMS was successful in 2016 in meeting the county’s EMS needs, down from 60 percent in 2015.

About 33 percent said EMS provided outstanding customer service (down from 60 percent in 2015) and 11 percent indicated they felt like Durham County listened to employees.

In an interview in February, Kirkwood said he sought the survey because he sensed there were concerns.

Kirkwood linked the concerns to the county’s EMS salaries, and to “a lot of change” that some resisted as the department absorbed area ambulance services from 2012 to 2014 and increased employees from 110 to more than 170. Other changes included a new medical director in 2015, new training protocols and shifts in schedules.

He also said that some of the EMS facilities were below par.

Staff writer Dan Kane contributed to this report.

Virginia Bridges: 919-829-8924, @virginiabridges