COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - Several Richland County EMS employees are making claims that a county administrator told them they should kill themselves or just quit if they are unhappy with their jobs.
Kevin Bronson, the assistant county administrator for public safety, reportedly said those remarks during a Thursday morning meeting with about 100 Richland County EMS workers.
Bronson told EMS workers of a list of complaints he had received from an employee. The list, Bronson reportedly said, had been hanging over him.
We have received a list of grievances from a former paramedic with Richland County, Matt Gottlieb. It's unclear if Gottlieb's list is the list Bronson was referencing before his comments. That list is an 8-page document of issues Gottlieb wished would be fixed.
"So I'm looking through this list with 50 different problems and if it's really that bad you can just kill yourself or leave," Bronson reportedly said, according to one of the people in the audience.
"People were crying, people were yelling at him. One we just lost a deputy because of suicide. I don't think he understands the gravity of the situation. We're not here for the money, we're here because we love what we do," the audience member said.
This comes on the heels of a WIS Investigation that spoke with several current and former Richland County EMS employees who claim a harsh work environment with issues such as understaffing, underfunding, management concerns, long response times, and in some cases, completely preventable deaths due to those long response times.
Richland County is one of the busiest counties in the state, responding to close to 70,000 calls a year and increasing, according to several sources who we spoke with during our investigation
Those same sources also say nearly 100 people have quit in the past several years.
"There was the final straw, but several things that were gnawing on me for a while," Matt Gottlieb said. "The biggest one that was gnawing on me, I can't get you a lot of detail because of HIPPA [law]. But let's just say that a patient didn't get the best care and died because of it."
We attempted to contact Bronson directly by visiting his office Friday morning, but we were met by county public information director Beverly Harris, who said Bronson was only available through appointment.
Harris also said the county would not be issuing a comment.
"We're not going to comment on something that was said at an internal employee meeting," Harris said.
Instead, we've since learned Bronson apologized to EMS workers through an e-mail forwarded to us by a source close to the situation.
In the letter, Bronson said his comments were "inappropriate and insensitive."
"Those comments are my own and, while I regret them, I must live by them," Bronson wrote.
Bronson went on to say in the letter that he has received some type of punishment for his comments, but that punishment has not been made public.
"The disciplinary action I received was appropriate and the time I spent in the woodshed was both painful and appropriate," Bronson said.
Bronson also called upon his own experience with suicide, saying he lost a family member to it after he completed college.
"The pain of losing her in that matter is deep and everlasting," Bronson said. "I should not have allowed either the heat of the moment nor the situation to lead to a moment of such callousness."
Bronson, in the letter, also promised to respond to the concerns addressed by EMS employees.
Richland County Administrator Gerald Seals also released a statement, saying Bronson's comments were "inappropriate" and "cavalier."
"While public recounting of the incident has been mischaracterized, the fact that such comments were made will not be tolerated. Although this Assistant Administrator promptly apologized, more needed to be done – and he has been disciplined. On behalf of Richland County, I also apologize for what happened and regret that an employee in the Administrator's Office spoke in such a manner. I am committed to ensuring all County employees know they are valued and respected," the statement said.
** 8/14/17 UPDATE: Kevin Bronson submitted his resignation on Monday morning. Read more here.