FEMA sends help as MEDIC faces COVID-related staff shortages, higher call volume

CHARLOTTE — Mecklenburg Emergency Medical Services announced that a strike team from FEMA will be assisting them as they deal with staffing shortages due to a rise in employee COVID-19 isolations, as well as high call volume.

MEDIC’s deputy director, Dr. Jonathan Studnek, said 24 paramedics are being isolated because of COVID-19.

On Wednesday, FEMA approved a partial fulfillment of MEDIC’s request, which includes four fully staffed ambulances for a 14-day period, with the possibility of an extension.

FEMA will provide 4 ambulances and 10 medics to the county emergency agency.

Studnek said he is grateful for the four ambulances that arrived Wednesday.

“Clearly that’s just a drop in the bucket from what we requested,” Studnek said.

He said they thoroughly considered their needs and decided they had to have 25 ambulances to handle a big jump in COVID-related calls along with their other calls.

MEDIC said those ambulances were deployed on Thursday. There will be at least two units deployed from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m. and two units deployed from 4 p.m. until 4 a.m.

MEDIC said these units will operate mostly on non-emergency transports until they are familiar with the community, before transitioning to 911 coverage.

MEDIC is answering five times more COVID-related calls daily than they did before Christmas.

The patients often require more attention, and the calls have a higher risk for parmedics.

MEDIC insists the shortfall won’t impact call times for the most serious calls.

“Our No. 1 goal is to make sure we get to the sickest patients in the county the quickest,” Studnek said.

But those low-priority, non-emergency calls will take a backseat.

In fact, they may not even get an ambulance.

They may get a ride-share driver authorized by MEDIC to take a patient to the hospital.

“If you are a low-acuity patient, you may experience extended wait times up to 60 minutes,” Studnek said.

MEDIC said they are grateful for the extra four ambulances over the next two weeks.

But with COVID-19 numbers climbing, it will still be a challenging time.

A FEMA spokesperson told Channel 9 Thursday afternoon that they only had 25 ambulances with paramedics to share across the state because of finite resources.

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They said it’s up to state Health and Human Services officials to decide who gets those services.

The units will be used throughout the county.