TULSA, Okla. — A ride in an ambulance could take longer than expected as hospitals struggle with bed capacity.
Tulsa's ambulance service, EMSA, is working to keep up with an increase in calls as COVID-19 cases rise amid the spread of the Delta variant.
“We’ve never stopped responding to COVID calls," said Adam Paluka, chief public affairs officer for EMSA. "So for the community, while COVID may be back on everybody’s radar now, it was never off our radar.”
Paluka said there were days in June where they averaged 8-10 potential COVID calls per day. Last week, they had 82 COVID-related calls in one day. There were 58 COVID-related calls on Saturday and 64 on Sunday.
If you do need an ambulance to get to the hospital, expect to wait once you're there. While bed capacity is fluid, crews and patients are typically left waiting for an opening.
“Most of them it’s 30 minutes to a couple of hours," Paluka said. "And that might not seem like a lot, but if every crew encounters that at some point during their shift, that takes, you know, a lot of unit hours off the streets.”
First responders are dealing with this increase in COVID-related calls on top of handling calls for other emergencies.
“While we are talking a lot about COVID, we’re still dealing with heart attacks, heat calls, strokes," Paluka said. "So, just because COVID is taking a lot of the attention right now, it doesn’t mean that the other calls we’re responding to are going away.”
All of this is happening as EMSA experiences a staffing shortage. Paluka said the health department administered 1,500 fewer EMT and paramedic tests in 2020 than in 2019. The pandemic is taking its toll on those on the front lines.
“They’re tired because I think they thought that maybe they had turned the corner in April and May only for three months later to be back where we are now," Paluka said.
EMSA is working to recruit new employees. You can learn more about how to join here.
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