FEMA sends MEDIC more help; EMS agency also partners with ride-share services

CHARLOTTE — Three more Federal Emergency Management Agency strike team ambulances arrived Thursday to help Mecklenburg Emergency Medical Services Agency and began responding to 911 calls on Friday.

The first responders join four other crews that have been helping MEDIC respond to calls in Mecklenburg County since January. Those crews had their stay extended another 14 days to meet call demand.

The ambulances may not look the like the ones MEDIC usually drives, but these first responders may be answering if you call.

“It has made a difference,” said Jonathan Studnek, MEDIC’s deputy director. “If you think about the four units that have been here, they respond to about 20 calls a day. And we’re doing about 310 transports a day, so if pull that 20 off, that is relief for our crews.”

Last month, Mecklenburg EMS announced the strike team from FEMA would be assisting as they dealt with staffing shortages due to a rise in employee COVID-19 isolations, as well as a high call volume.

At the time, Studnek said 24 paramedics were being isolated because of COVID-19.

FEMA provided four ambulances and 10 medics to the county EMS agency after approving a partial fulfillment of MEDIC’s request.

A FEMA spokesperson told Channel 9 in January that they had just 25 ambulances with crews to spread across the state. State Health and Human Services officials decide how the finite resources are shared.

Still, relief came at the right time. Studnek said the agency is short 65 EMTs and paramedics.

He said the agency has been hiring for months, but the COVID-19 surge continues to cripple them. Each day, MEDIC transports 25 COVID-19 patients.

“This has been the hardest wave of the pandemic for MEDIC,” Studnek said.

The additional FEMA units were deployed at least two at a time from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. and 4 p.m. to 4 a.m.

They were set to operate primarily on non-emergency transports as they became familiar with the community, before the transition to 911 response.

In October, MEDIC launched a program allowing some low-acuity patients the option of taking a Lyft instead of an ambulance. So far, Studnek said 163 of the 195 people given the option chose to take a Lyft over an ambulance.

“Maybe someone with extremity pain but not a fracture. Someone who doesn’t feel generally well. We do not refer patients who are COVID positive to Lyft,” he said.

Studnek said MEDIC covers the cost of those rides. He said it saves everyone involved money, because an ambulance ride, even with insurance, can cost thousands of dollars.

“We’re really happy we’ve been able to launch that program and look at improving it over the next couple of months,” Studnek said.

MEDIC also said it is applying for American Rescue Plan Act funding from the county in hopes of offering monetary incentives to recruits and retention bonuses for its employees to keep everyone on board.


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