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EMS crews strained by full hospitals, patients forced to wait and choose

Posted at 10:13 PM, Jan 07, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-08 00:04:51-05

OLATHE, Kan. — The Johnson County EMS System Medical Director, Ryan Jacobsen, says the community still hasn’t seen the peak of COVID-19 omicron variant cases.

With the ongoing surge overburdening hospitals that are critically understaffed, increased calls for emergency medical services are an additional challenge to those that might take a ride with them.

“It’s just extra work. It’s an extra workload for our employees, it creates an extra strain for them,” said Deputy Chief Scott Sare, Johnson County MED-ACT.

Sare says MED-ACT calls are above average.

“With that comes a strain on our system, our employees feel tired,” he said.

He says on average, they receive 128 calls a day. And as of late, it’s increased to 146 calls.

“A definite increase and impact in the last two weeks,” Sare said.

However, the impact may come to those who need help.

Jacobsen says EMS crews are challenged between letting the patient choose where they go and taking them to a place that actually has room for them.

“We are struggling with those decisions every day,” Jacobsen said. “It puts the EMS in a very awkward, hard position.”

He says hospitals are often on diversion status and patients will be forced to wait.

The bottom line, he says, is hospitals may not be able to care for strokes, heart attacks or traumas if full.

“If the hospital you want to go to is very busy, you might wait for quite a while because of bed space or staffing,” Jacobsen said. “Now the crew is stuck between honoring the patient’s wishes and going regardless to the busy hospital where they are struggling or taking them to the hospital that they have no record of that patient.”

Sare and Jacobsen say they need help to offload local emergency departments. To ease the burden, make sure to use 911 appropriately, and consider using primary care or telehealth.

MED-ACT says 16 new hires will start soon, filling a portion of 25 vacancies.