Alabama ambulance services strained as COVID-19 cases surge

Local News

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — Alabama EMS services are fighting to keep up with a rise in COVID-19 cases and an increase in hospitalizations across the state.

First responders are also dealing with absences and issues with funding.

“I think our EMS system is heading to a breaking point,” said Eric Pendley, the Director of Operations for Regional Paramedical Services.

RPS services a total of nine counties in Alabama. While ambulance services did receive around $15,000 through the CARES act, Pendley said more is needed for staffing.

“We actually had a bill we thought we were going to get to present this past February, but then COVID hit, to try to get some of that Medicaid funding, but we’ve got to have some funding to get some salaries up to get this industry back to its feet with staffing,” said Pendley.

More people in Alabama hospitals has led to a longer wait time for some EMS workers trying to drop off patients.

The problem can be more pronounced in smaller communities.

“You don’t really have but a couple ambulances anyway and you get those guys tied up waiting on a bed at the hospital, maybe three or four hours waiting on a bed just because the hospitals are so full and it really magnifies a lack of ambulances you have on the streets for communities,” said Pendley.

Pendley estimated that around 10 percent of his RPS staff was out Thursday. He said all hands are on deck. Some administrators are even driving trucks to fill in the gaps as they try to hang on through the surge.

“Our biggest concern is not spreading this virus as well and we want to make sure we are cleaning our trucks and our guys are wearing PPE, just to take care of them and the patients we serve,” said Pendley.

Pendley also recently recovered from COVID-19 and urged neighbors to take the virus seriously and follow health precautions like washing hands, avoiding gatherings, and wearing a face covering if in close contact with another person.

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