Stress placed on EMS teams as COVID-19 cases rise

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AUGUSTA, Ga. (WJBF) — As COVID-19 cases rise in the Augusta area, more stress is being placed on EMS teams. Gold Cross EMS tells NewsChannel 6 it receives hundreds of calls each day and is transporting 10 to 15 percent more patients to hospitals than normal.

However, all Augusta hospitals are full, which has forced them to declare EMS Diversion. A hospital’s diversion status can change by the minute. When it is declared, a hospital can not treat new patients right away because it is overwhelmed by patients who have already been admitted.

“EMS diversion is a status a hospital goes on to advise EMS that the emergency department or facility is currently overcrowded to point that it is not able to deliver the optimal level of care,” Dr. Phillip Coule, Augusta University Health System’s Chief Medical Officer, says.

When a hospital has declared diversion, EMS staff has two options — wait for care or transport the patient to a different hospital. Steven Vincent, the Vice President of Gold Cross EMS, says patients have to wait an average of about 20 to 30 minutes to be seen at Augusta hospitals, but that time extended sometimes.

“They’re rationing care in California,” Vincent explains. “They’re telling EMTs and paramedics if patients don’t have a pulse, don’t bring them to the hospital. We’re not at that level here. I think that’s a testament to the hard work at our local hospitals.”

Gold Cross EMS is partnering with Augusta hospitals to bring wait times down. It has started a program in which its paramedics stay at hospitals during the day to assist staff and care for patients. Gold Cross EMS also launched a telehealth program this month, which allows patients to speak with physicians virtually while being assessed by an EMS team in-person.

“A lot of the patients we see could be treated somewhere else or through telemedicine. We really want to focus on those patients to help alleviate the stress on hospitals and on our crews.”

While hospitals struggle to keep up with patients, paramedics and EMTs are facing their own battles.

“They’re trained in this. Some days, they know they’re going to run a lot harder than others. It’s the mental fatigue that’s really wearing on them.”

Gold Cross EMS is now offering mental health and counseling services to its employees to help them cope with trauma.

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