RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — A national trade group for ambulance providers says the 911 emergency system is being stretched to “a breaking point” — but that has less to do with having enough ambulances, and more to do with money.
While ambulance services have taken more calls during the pandemic, Tristan North of the American Ambulance Association says they are actually taking fewer people to hospitals, with patients refusing transport because they are concerned about exposure to COVID-19.
That’s a problem for ambulance providers, who often are only reimbursed when they take someone to a hospital or similar facility but also shoulder the costs of personal protective equipment and the cleaning of ambulances.
“Even though we’ve seen an upsurge in calls, we’re not seeing necessarily the same upsurge in reimbursement as a result,” North told CBS 17 News.
In a letter to the federal Department of Health and Human Services, Aarron Reinert, the association’s president, said the emergency medical system across the country “is at a breaking point” and that “it seems likely to break” without additional relief.
“We are looking at a situation where ambulance providers and suppliers are getting hit with lower revenue, increased costs at a time that they were already operating on a shoestring budget,” North said. “And our concern right now is we see folks being impacted, not just the impact during the public health emergency but we may be deteriorating our 911 EMS system for the future as well.”
The group is asking for $2.6 billion from the Provider Relief Fund, which has already been allocated by Congress. That works out to $43,500 for each of the roughly 60,000 ambulances across the country.
“The breaking point is, one, our systems are just so overloaded,” North said. “Right now, there’s a breaking point that’s a little different because we have such an upsurge right now in the number of COVID-19 patients. So there is this breaking point that we’re getting this upsurge. Lower reimbursement and increase costs.”
A state record 2,240 hospitalized patients with COVID-19 were reported Monday by DHHS — the fifth straight day the state reported a single-day high.
The five days with the most new COVID-related admissions to hospitals across the state also took place from Wednesday through Sunday, with nearly 300 confirmed COVID patients admitted each day.
Phil Ricks, the chairman of the North Carolina Association of EMS Administrators, told CBS 17 News that he is unaware of any shortages of ambulances across the state.
“As far as I know, everybody’s meeting the demand at this point,” he said.
He says that funding would help budgets across North Carolina that are strained increasing overtime expenses, and he’s calling for hazard pay for EMS workers.
“They are busting their budgets because of all the overtime they’re having to pay,” Ricks said.
Extra funding also could have helped two volunteer agencies in Wilson County that closed last month after membership and money dried up.