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'It's really been stretched recently': Indianapolis EMS on omicron COVID-19 surge

Calls up 6.33% in Jan. 2022 from Jan. 2021
Posted at 10:02 PM, Jan 28, 2022

INDIANAPOLIS — COVID-19 has not only hit hospitals hard this surge, but also ambulance services.

At Indianapolis EMS, call, incident and transport numbers are at record levels. In 2021, crews transported more than 91,000 people, which is up from around 83,000 the previous year.

Things picked up during omicron, where the IEMS Chief said some days saw more than 400 daily calls. The latest surge also presented its own challenges.

“What has been pushing and driving our run volumes is not necessarily attributed to COVID. Certainly, it's a percentage of it, but what we're seeing is just the calls for all service are just increasing,” IEMS Chief Dr. Dan O’Donnell said.

Indianapolis EMS incident response from Jan. 1-27

over 9,500over 9,000over 8,300over 7,900

First — hospital diversions. Often, IEMS crews have to drive farther routes to transport patients. When this happens and once they arrive, many times they have to wait until staff or a bed becomes available. This in turn lengthens run and response times, when there is already a surge in calls.

“If we get to the hospital and they're like sorry we're full and I've got a patient on my bed on my stretcher what am I supposed to do?” IEMS paramedic Laura Herring described.

WRTV Reporter Nikki DeMentri asked: “What do you do?”

Herring answered: “I have to sit there and wait for a bed.”

“Our hospital partners have done a great job of listening to us as well as taking proactive steps to make sure they can receive the influx of EMS calls. We've made it very clear to them that this is our new normal," O’Donnell said.

There is also a national and statewide paramedic shortage. IEMS is working diligently to expand its fleet and staff.

“We’re short staffed. Hospitals are short staffed, police are short staffed. Whether it just be staffing issues in general or COVID-related, there’s just a decrease in people to take care of these sick people,” Herring said.

The mom of two has been on the job for 15 years, most recently serving the near southside of the city.

“I can’t really imagine myself doing anything other than EMS,” Herring said.

It simply is her calling, even during the challenges of the latest surge.

“This has definitely been harder in the last few months than it was in the last two years,” Herring said.

Dr. O’Donnell has a simple ask for the community.

“They [EMTs and paramedics] never could say no and they've never been able to say no and they will answer that call every day and again. I ask the public to thank them,” O’Donnell said.

Herring acknowledges, yes she is exhausted both physically and mentally and so are her coworkers, but she wants the community to know the crew at IEMS are passionate and will get you medical care.

“It might take a long time for us to get there, you might be met with a fire crew first, especially for coming from a long distance away from somewhere — but we will be there,” Herring said.

Dr. O’Donnell said IEMS is seeing a slight decrease in calls this week. He hopes this is a good sign for what may come, but also said he does not expect calls to drop much more. Instead, he believes high call volumes will be the new normal.

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