FEMA triples size of COVID-19 ambulance strike team in Missouri

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — A federal ambulance strike team has expanded from Springfield to statewide in Missouri as a growing number of patients are having a hard time finding a hospital bed.

Those ambulances are expected to arrive overnight on Friday following a request to FEMA from Missouri Governor Mike Parson.

Local first responders say the move is extremely welcomed, with multiple agencies reporting that they currently are having the highest volume of patients that they have ever experienced.

But the true beneficiaries of the expansion could be hospitals and, by extension, their patients.

The general problem right now is that COVID-19 is not the only reason people are going to the hospital. Other reasons include injuries and acute illnesses. On top of that you add COVID-19 and it means that a bed is less likely to be available.

It falls on ambulances to take people to other open healthcare facilities. But when you send that ambulance on the road, it means taking that same ambulance out of the general mix.

EMS workers at the Kansas City Fire Department say the last 18 months have been like watching a car crash in slow motion. That is why they are thankful to get support which is already available in Springfield.

Larry Woods, director of Emergency Management in Springfield and Greene County, said the strike teams have been incredibly effective compared to when local EMS agencies had to handle the entire burden.

“We were transporting patients to Illinois, to St. Louis, to Kansas City, Columbia, essentially anywhere that we could find a bed,” Woods said.

“They’ve been doing yeoman’s work for 18 months now and you can only keep that pace up for so long,” Woods said.

“Our own employees are getting sick. And some of them died,” Nathan Hopper, EMS assistant division chief for KCFD said.

Hopper said the ambulances are a blessing for KCFD crews but it is a part of a larger struggle playing out in the hospitals.

“It’s an endless chain of phone calls and chasing a bed and finding a bed and knowing that that bed is only going to be there for a very specific amount of time. And so it’s almost like a lottery and it’s the worst kind of lottery you can imagine because it depends on the hospital finding the bed and then a receiving physician saying yes – you can send me that patient,” Hopper said.

“And then to get an ambulance there and the ambulance crew, burdened as it is, having to take that patient there as fast as possible to get that person in the bed knowing someone else isn’t going to get that bed,” Hopper said.

“It’s not like a huge number. But here’s the thing, it’s six more ambulances than we had yesterday,” Hopper said.

In Springfield, the program, which has been around just about two weeks, has already moved 213 patients including some to Kansas City.

The expansion statewide will triple the number of ambulances available as a part of the strike team, according to a news release from Parson.

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