Oklahoma City first responders dealing with COVID-19 related staffing issues


OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – COVID-19 seems to be impacting just about every workplace in the state right now and for our first responders and healthcare workers, it’s no different.

Staffing shortages, illness, and a higher-than-usual number of patients is leaving some spread thin but their commitment to public health and safety remains.

Those we count on in times of trouble are now facing troubles of their own.

COVID-19 is leading to staffing shortages among our first responders and healthcare workers.

“It’s getting to be a problem for a lot people,” said Dr. Douglas Drevets, OU Health Chief of Infectious Diseases. “We’re in for a rough few weeks ahead of us so I think we should be prepared of that.”

At EMSA, 25 of their 80 boots-on-the ground first responders are out due to COVID-19.

Firefighters who are certified paramedics are stepping in to help.

“It’s nearly impossible sometimes but the men and women out on the streets and the first responders we work with have done an excellent job,” said EMSA President and CEO Jim Winham.

Winham says they were already dealing with a staffing shortage before COVID’s recent rapid spread with fewer people signing up for the job or leaving it altogether.

“Traditionally around the nation, it’s been low pay for hard work, for very hard work,” Winham said. 

Now, with COVID taking hold on their staff and filling up hospitals, wait times to get in are longer.

In some cases, it can be up to five hours for stable patients.

“They’re getting excellent, excellent medical care. It’s just a waiting game that we’re having to deal with,” said Winham.

Winham says the hospitals, who are dealing with many patients and little staff, aren’t to blame.

It’s a problem across the metro and the country.

“There’s just a huge number of cases out in the community which really reflects a level of transmission that we really haven’t seen before in this pandemic,” Drevets said. “It takes so many people to run a hospital. Yeah, it’s an issue.”

At the Oklahoma City Fire Department, around 55 of 1,000 firefighter personnel have COVID-19.

Thankfully, all rigs are still in service.

“But it’s difficult,” said Oklahoma City Fire Batt. Chief Benny Fulkerson. “It’s difficult for us, just like it is with anybody else out there who are having to deal with this right now as an organization.”

All assure the public their safety is not in danger as they look toward hope on the horizon.

“Hopefully, if our experience is like that of other countries that are a little ahead of us in the omicron burst, by the middle, end of February, things may be settling down,” said Drevets. “They might settle down very rapidly but we do have a pretty steep hill to climb and we shouldn’t kid ourselves about it.”

65 staff members with Oklahoma City Police Department are off work for isolation or quarantine.

EMSA also says they’ve received multiple calls to get an ambulance ride to get a COVID test.

They say do not do that.

Just because you’re on a stretcher doesn’t mean you’ll go to the top of the line.

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