ST. PETERSBURG, FLA.- — First responders in St. Pete said the pandemic has put a strain on the system.
Rescue crews with St. Pete Fire Rescue are frequently transporting patients. Normally, only Sunstar paramedics would take patients to the hospital.
"The challenge is the resource level has not recovered to the pre-pandemic level. The hospitals are experiencing substantial staffing shortages, fire and EMS agencies are experiencing substantial staffing shortages," said Rescue Chief Ian Womack with St. Pete Fire Rescue.
Chief Ian Womack said in years past, crews would transport maybe 10 patients a year. In the past 10 days, crews have transported 300 patients. He said Sunstar paramedics still handle the bulk of calls.
"Sunstar, the ambulance, would take them to the hospital. They would offload them to the hospital in 15-20 minutes and that ambulance is available again for another call. What's happening now is because they're short staffed, the ambulance is getting to the hospital and it has taken sometimes 30, 60, 90 or 120 minutes, sometimes even more to get that patient offloaded. The whole time they're waiting and not available for another call," said Womack.
"We need to be here as a back up system so when that resource gets depleted the people in the community don’t experience any degradation in the level of service."
Rescue Chief Womack said usually crews use a manual stretcher because they do not frequently transport patients, but he asked city council to approve the purchase of new stretchers. The cost was estimated at a little more than $300,000.
"So we wanted to get the hydraulic stretchers to save our people some work, risk of injury, patient safety and all of that," said Womack.
City council approved the purchase of new stretchers on Thursday.
Womack said in 2019, demand was at a normal level.
In 2020, the shutdowns caused the call volume to decrease by 6.5%. He said more people were staying home. He said the call volume has returned to prepandemic levels.