After diversions at local hospital, FEMA helps transport patients elsewhere

Local News

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — As COVID cases and staffing shortages overwhelmed local hospitals systems, some have been left diverting patients to other areas. 

Rochester General Hospital has had diversions twice this week. To help, Monroe Ambulance has been transporting non-urgent patients to other hospitals… but it isn’t always easy.  

“When we’re taking patients to emergency departments in the hospitals that the emergency departments are beyond capacity, that requires our ambulances to wait longer with patients to transfer the patient from the ambulance crew, to the hospital staff. And it limits the amount of ambulance availability out in the community,” said John Caufield, the Chief Operating Officer at Monroe Ambulance. 

Caufield said during divisions, critical patients are still taken to the closet facility or most appropriate one, but EMS are still advised to avoid these hospitals because of the potentially long delays in treatment for patients. 

“We’re doing the best we can. If somebody calls 911, you will get an ambulance, you will get transported to the hospital, but a sort of an associated piece of that is if you have sort of a low acuity event that you might want to go to an urgent care, urgent cares are closed down. So there’s really there’s very limited options other than going to the hospital,” he said. 

The diversions are something Caufield says he isn’t used to seeing and he worries this could be a cascading effect for other hospitals. 

“The long-term fear of this is that as hospitals go on diversion, it increases demand and challenges on the other hospitals. And it could be a domino effect as one goes on diversion. Another one might in Syracuse, I know those hospitals are routinely on diversion. And they’re suffering the same issues that that we are in most hospital and EMS systems throughout the country,” Caufield said. 

Monroe Ambulance transports to five local hospitals in the area, but staffing shortages and an increase in calls, have left them struggling as well. 

“We’re looking for eight full time paramedics. That’s not an easy find, because every other EMS system probably in the country is looking for paramedics. But we have eight full time vacancies for paramedics, and probably in excess of 20, full time vacancies for EMTs,” Caufield said. He adds that they have 10 people out with COVID currently too. 

To help drive patients, FEMA sent two ambulances to the area on Thursday night. Caufield said they responded to 5 calls between 7 p.m. and 7 a.m. Friday morning. 

“We were out of ambulances at that point in time,” Caufield said. “It’s just unprecedented times, but this is really what emergency management is about.”

But despite overwhelmed hospital systems and longer wait times, Caufield says it’s important that if you have an emergency, you call 9-1-1. 

“If people need help, call 911, and you’ll get the service that you need. That’s that’s the bottom line,” he said. “Acute patients absolutely get the highest priority of call, of dispatch, of resources, and I want the public not to be panicked, but to be aware of this.” 

Experts say you should go to the emergency room if you have any of the following: 

  • Chest pain or left arm pain
  • Serious burns or cuts
  • Seizures 
  • Severe allergic reactions 
  • Stoke symptoms — like slurred speech, sudden numbness or facial droop
  • Or Multiple injuries or a possible broken bone. 

They ask you to not go to the hospital for a COVID-19 test.

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