EMSA working with short staff as COVID-19, heat related calls rise throughout Oklahoma

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OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – The heat is on across the state. As the temps rise, so are heat-related calls to EMSA– who is already working with a short staff.

“Response times are not where we want them to be,” said Adam Paluka, EMSA Chief Public Affairs Officer. “We saw a lot of people who exited the healthcare field. Not just EMS, but nursing, folks in public safety. I think that’s because those jobs were really on the front lines of the pandemic.”

EMSA tells KFOR as of July 28th, there are only 69 full-time paramedics who are able to respond to emergencies. The goal is to have 113.

But staffing isn’t just an Oklahoma issue.

“We’ve talked with colleagues in Sacramento, Michigan, Florida, even New York City FDNY. They’re having the same issues we are with staffing, with EMTs and Paramedics. We know it’s going to be a slow climb,” Paluka said.

For a priority 1 call, which is a life-threatening emergency, response time goals are 10 minutes and 59 seconds. Paluka says during June that time was met 66% of the time in OKC.

The rise in COVID-19 cases across the state not helping the issue.

The first week of June, EMSA was responding to 8 to 10 Covid-19 related calls a day. But now, it’s 35 to 40.

Throw in the past week’s heat wave and it’s a recipe for disaster.

“There is no question that our medics are tired and I don’t think it’s just because of the staffing shortage. I think it’s a whole collection of things. I think it starts with the pandemic,” Paluka said.

With temps in the high 90s and the heat index over 105 degrees, EMSA is putting mandatory breaks in place for staff to rest and recover.

And asking Oklahomans to start preparing now.

“If you know you’re gonna be outside this weekend, you need to start preparing for the heat tonight. Thursday night. Even if it’s gonna be on Sunday morning, 48 to 72 hours you need to start hydrating. Prehydrating.”

EMSA is doing a handful of things to recruit more staff, including a $20,000 signing bonus for paramedics and $10,000 for dispatchers.

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