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COVID-19

COVID keeps surging. Are EMS providers at the breaking point?

Kimberly Adams Dec 3, 2020
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A worker decontaminates an ambulance. John Moore/Getty Images
COVID-19

COVID keeps surging. Are EMS providers at the breaking point?

Kimberly Adams Dec 3, 2020
Heard on:
A worker decontaminates an ambulance. John Moore/Getty Images
HTML EMBED:
COPY

While Congress continues to negotiate over what will hopefully be some kind of deal on more stimulus relief, the health care system is straining under the onslaught of new COVID-19 cases.

Hospitals are filling up, and doctors and nurses are going beyond their limits. However, other parts of the system are also at the brink, starting with the people who show up if you do get really sick.

The crush of COVID-19-related calls to 911 EMS in Milton, Georgia, has put additional pressure on the fire department staff and finances, due to spending on personal protective equipment, decontamination machines and a lot of overtime.

“Once you start losing those people to quarantine or worse yet to being sick, then that can have an impact on a ambulance company or fire department’s ability to provide that essential first step,” said Matt Marietta, emergency manager and deputy fire chief in Milton.

Ambulance companies are feeling the pain, and asking for more federal aid.

“What you’re seeing is a system that is being stretched and stretched and stretched to the point where the rubber band could break,” said Maria Bianchi, CEO of the American Ambulance Association.

A lot of that stretching has to do with what’s happening at hospitals. Dr. Sam Bagchi, chief clinical officer at Christus Health in Texas, said usually overcrowding means moving a patient nearby.

“And really, over the last several weeks, you know, we’ve had to coordinate those more so across regions, and even across state lines,” he said.

That’s happening all over the country.

“If there’s no available beds, those ambulances are stuck there for four, five, sometimes six hours. And that’s what we’ve seen over the past week,” said Eric Sherwin, a spokesman for the San Bernardino County Fire Department in California.

Now, in San Bernardino, they’re no longer sending out an ambulance every time someone calls 911, although they still send paramedics to those who are sick, reserving their ambulances for life-threatening emergencies.

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