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FEMA lending support to Mecklenburg County for EMS staffing shortages

MEDIC welcomed a strike team from the agency on Wednesday, Jan. 5.

MECKLENBURG COUNTY, N.C. — With COVID-19 cases rising in North Carolina, the Mecklenburg EMS Agency (MEDIC) is getting staffing support from the federal government.  

MEDIC is already short about 50 field workers, and now COVID-19 has taken out some of their crew.

FEMA sent 10 extra people and four more ambulances to help fill some of the gaps, but it’s not even close to what MEDIC officials asked for and they say it won’t make a huge difference.

The agency has been slammed as omicron spreads rapidly, the percent positivity rate in Mecklenburg County over 30%.

“We’re seeing about 30 to 35 COVID transports per day and that’s up from four or five just two to three weeks ago,” Jonathan Studnek, deputy director of MEDIC, said at a press conference on Thursday.

They have fewer employees to go on those calls. They’ve already been dealing with a staffing shortage and now six people in the communications center and 24 EMTs or paramedics are out with COVID-19.

FEMA is helping to a degree.

“We asked for 25 ambulances and got four, Studnek said. “We are very grateful for those four, but those four aren’t 25. And so, while we will put them to work, and they will serve our community and help us out clearly that’s just a drop in the bucket for what we requested”.

MEDIC will still be forced to divert low acuity patients out of the system. That means people who aren’t experiencing a true emergency, like a heart attack or stroke, will be offered an Uber or Lyft to the hospital, or will have to wait an hour for an ambulance.

That system allows them to prioritize the sickest people in the community, ensuring response times there do not slip.

“If we had that full request, we wouldn’t have to take mitigation strategies like taking low acuity patients and extending their response times,” Studnek said.

The strike teams will stay for two weeks and then federal and state emergency management will reevaluate the situation.

Two units will be deployed from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. and another two units will deploy from 4 p.m. to 4 a.m. 

The agency says the units will operate mostly on non-emergency transports at first to familiarize themselves in the community before shifting into 911 coverage. They will be used within Mecklenburg County.

MEDIC recently discussed the shortage, citing COVID-19 cases within the region.

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