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If your area of the country is experiencing the latest COVID19 surge the way we are around DC you’ve likely seen lots of news stories about the enormous impact on hospitals. You’ve also probably seen precious little coverage about the impact on EMS. It seems reporters and editors don’t automatically make the connection or naturally understand a constantly slammed hospital emergency department equals ambulances being unavailable for hours. Proactive PIOs should be pitching this story daily.
To help local and national news media understand this I’ve been trying to do my part. Through daily tweets with information and radio traffic illustrating the current EMS crisis I’ve been trying to bring attention to the problem. While it still isn’t getting the attention hospitals are receiving, EMS is starting to get coverage. There was an excellent story last night (above) by the DC FOX owned station focusing on the impact in Prince George’s County, Maryland. Thanks Lindsay Watts and Van Applegate.
PGFD, like other fire departments in the region, is being open and transparent about the challenges. This includes a dramatic increase in hospital drop times to a current average of about an hour and forty minutes. They’ve also cited examples of the extremes where crews are stuck for eight hours or longer. PGFD also talked about its efforts, where possible, to have one EMS crew monitor multiple patients in the ED to get the other crews back on the road.
The one thing most, if not all, of the DC area departments seem reluctant to clearly admit is the impact on response times. They’re trying to avoid panicking the public. I get it, but it’s obvious if you have more ambulances tied up for longer times in an ED, ambulances traveling to more distant hospitals (PGFD has been taking an increasing number to Virginia) and dealing with your own staffing problems due to COVID infections, longer ambulance response times are inevitable. I think it’s important for the public to fully understand this because the crisis may be greatly amplified if the COVID numbers continue to quickly rise over the coming weeks. In other words, we may not have hit bottom yet.
For the most part, fire and EMS here are doing a great job of making it work. But don’t let those efforts mask the reality for the public. They need to understand normal for EMS is rapidly changing. You don’t want to in a month be unable to keep up with the 911 demand and have the public say, “Why didn’t you warn us?”