Woodford County EMS sees increase in calls to service
On a recent Monday, paramedics and emergency medical technicians with Woodford County Emergency Medical Services (EMS) made 20 calls to service. That total didn’t include five runs made by off-duty personnel, its Director Freeman Bailey said. “By the end of the day,” said paramedic Kevin Morris, a shift supervisor, “… you’re running on what we call robot mode … At night when you’re trying to sleep and trying to rest, you’ve got paperwork for each one of those runs that have been pilling up throughout the day. “So instead of being able to just come back … go to bed and just rest, you have to do the paperwork after making the runs. You’ve got to restock your truck. You’ve got to clean it up ...” Morris said he and his partner finally got to sleep after finishing most of their paperwork at around 2:30 in the morning, but “we got woke right back up at 4 o’clock for two more runs. So by … 7 o’clock the next morning (after making 11 runs), we were ready to go home.” Bailey said calls to service for Woodford County EMS have increased drastically in recent months. So there became a need to hire three more part-timers – the department now has 10 – to give his 14 full-timers some rest, both physically and mentally, he explained. “What they see and what they do every day is not what the average person needs to see every day,” Bailey said. “So when they’re pulling an extra 24 hours, 36 hours a week on top of their normal schedules (24 hours on, 48 hours off), I wanted to get them some help as quick as I could … to get them out of here where they can de-stress and just relax.” His crews are doing extra cleaning on their ambulances and other equipment because of the coronavirus, and must also finish paperwork before ending a 24-hour shift, “so they’re worn out by the end of the day,” said Bailey. He credited his staff for looking out for each other and their willingness to pick up an overtime shift so someone else can have a day off. “By having the part-timers,” said Morris, “… it allows us to be able to take a vacation day or a holiday (so we’re) not having to pick up – not only our regular scheduled overtime, but overtime for every time somebody wants a day off. So it gives us a little bit of a break.” And it allows part-timers to do the job, he added. It takes a lot of personnel to cover three stations, including the newest one in Midway, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Friday, according to Bailey. He said the stations on Big Sink Road and at the Woodford County Park both have a crew on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Because many of the part-timers at Woodford County EMS have fulltime jobs at other agencies, they are not always available when there’s a need to cover a shift here, Bailey said. “So we needed more people to help combat that,” he explained. The call volume for EMS crews “really took a hit,” with a decline of about 20 or more percent, during the first two months of the COVID-19 pandemic, Bailey said. He said people were scared to go to their doctor’s office or the hospital because of the coronavirus. “The patients that we did pick up,” he explained, “were severely sick because they waited so long to go.” He cited diabetic patients with blood sugar levels “through the roof” and cardiac patients with fluid built up on their lungs as examples of people waiting too long to see their doctors. Once people became more comfortable with the steps being taken to keep them safe while in an ambulance and hospital, the EMS call volume started to return to normal and has really picked up in the last two months, Bailey said. He said there’s no one explanation for the up-tick in calls to service, but noted most people do not need EMS because of COVID. They’re either sick because of medical conditions or they’ve been injured in an accident – not just car accidents, but also farm- or horse-related accidents, he explained. One of the challenges faced by ambulance crews in Woodford County are transports to Lexington hospitals. Because those trips typically take an hour-and-a-half or more, a night with 20 calls “means they’re out nonstop,” Bailey explained. He said patients are transported to Lexington when the need advanced trauma, cardiac or stroke treatment. “As long as they’re stable, we’ll transport them where they want to go,” he said. Because there’s a shortage of paramedics across the country, Woodford County EMS has been sending its EMTs to school so they can become certified paramedics, Bailey said. He said higher pay in private-sector jobs and hospitals, where they’re not working in the rain and cold weather, results in a lot of paramedics leaving EMS jobs. So hiring paramedics – even part-timers – does pose a challenge. “In the last two-and-a-half, three weeks,” said Bailey last Thursday, “we’ve hired four EMTs and three paramedics. “I guess the good Lord heard my prayers because we couldn’t find paramedics anywhere and I had three come in one week, so we hired all three.” The new hires had experience, so they support his department’s mission to provide the highest level of care to the community, he added. He also lauded the support of Woodford Fiscal Court, which approved the recent hiring of the three part-time paramedics at a pay rate of $15 an hour. Woodford EMS moved into its new station on Big Sink Road in early-June and will host a ribbon-cutting in the next couple of weeks, Bailey said. He said the building was designed to take care of today’s needs, “but it was built for the future.” There’s enough space to add another ambulance crew when it’s needed, and it has a large kitchen, private bedrooms, a training room, work spaces as well as shower and bathroom facilities for under $1 million, Bailey said. He said furniture for the station was custom-built by inmates at Kentucky Correctional Services for less than it would’ve cost if he’d gone somewhere else.