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San Diego ambulance service impacted by COVID-19 surge

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Posted at 6:52 AM, Jan 29, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-29 09:52:16-05

SAN DIEGO, Calif. — Falck employees are working to make it to every call and they are making their response goal, but the pandemic is presenting several obstacles

It's been two months since the ambulance provider took over operations in San Diego.

"Things are going much better than a few months ago. It was very challenging, you know, kind of getting up in a ramp-up," Jeff Behm, managing director, said. "It's like starting a new business,"

Behm said the virus has impacted staffing levels.

He said not only has call volume gone up 30 percent since December, but his employees are getting sick.

"Twenty-five percent out of the 400 people that that are paramedics and EMTs have been out of work at some point or another since the middle of December through just yesterday," he explained.

Falck is also waiting longer to turn over patients because hospitals are feeling the same burdens.

"We are waiting in a hospital to turn our patient over about eight hours," he said. "But I would tell you it's more like yeah, it's more like three to seven, three to six on average, but some have been waiting there all shift."

He said while COVID-19 is a burden to the system, Falck is meeting its average response time goal.

The organization has a three-tier priority level of calls they respond to--

  1. Life-threatening
  2. Urgent priority
  3. Non-life-threatening emergencies.

"We might say to you 'okay, we'll be there as quickly as we can,' but maybe we're not going to see you for like an hour or an hour and a half," Behm said. "But that's a non-life-threatening in this EMS operation. You're always going to get a unit free fairly quickly when it's a life-threatening emergency because we've got a great dual response system with the fire department."

Falck is hiring more first responders to meet the demand it is seeing.

"My paramedics and EMTs are working hard and they're tired, but they're out there for the public to do as much as they can," he said.

Falck is adding twelve new EMTs to its staff on Monday.