Magic Valley Paramedics is making the necessary adjustments to deal with COVID

Call volume and transports are up from this time last year
Published: Nov. 23, 2020 at 8:02 AM MST
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TWIN FALLS, Idaho (KMVT/KSVT) -COVID-19 cases are still rising in the Magic Valley, and hospitals are running low on capacity, forcing EMS crews to transfer patients to other nearby hospitals.

According to the state COVID -19 dashboard, COVID cases in Twin Falls increased nearly 700 percent this past week, compared to the last week of August. Magic Valley Paramedics daily call volume is up 26 percent for the Fall months (Sept, Oct, Nov.), compared to 2019, and they have seen a slight increase in respiratory issues and critically ill patients, but James Rhom, EMS supervisor for Magic Valley Paramedics said he can’t say at this time if it is entirely due to the virus.

“It is hard to disseminate the COVID calls out because most people call for a complaint due to COVID or similar to COVID, but nobody necessarily calls because I got COVID,” Rhom said.

It has been reported St. Luke’s Magic Valley has had to turn away patients many times over the last two weeks due to capacity issues related to COVID-19, forcing EMS providers to transfer patients to other nearby hospitals such as Idaho Falls, Pocatello, or Boise. Rhom said their inter-facility transfers are up 10 percent, but at this time it isn’t an issue for the crews.

“We plan and prepare for those ahead of time, so it is kinda built into our whole EMS system of doing interfacility transfers”.

He said a crew might do one or two long-distance transfers a shift, and they try to keep that utilization down. Rhom said everyone knows driving to Boise is a long trip across the desert, and it is the same in an ambulance, and they have found ways to mitigate long-distance transfers.

Rhom said Magic Valley Paramedics has 65 crew members made up of paramedics, EMT’s, and a supervisor. He said the big issue for crew members is the adjustments COVID-19 requires for patient care, such as having to put on PPE equipment for every call.

“Trying to perform patient care can be a real struggle. Not being able to connect with the patient as well because of the stuff that you are wearing,” said Rhom. It’s hot. You are sweaty You are having to wear all this equipment. It just causes a lot of barriers for the staff”.

Magic Valley Paramedics has six ambulances, four are used for 24 hours shifts and two are used for 12-hour shifts. Rhom said another big use COVID has caused for EMS providers is the infection prevention processes Crews have to decontaminate the ambulances dozens of times a day, compared to a few times a day prior to COVID.

He said there was a week or two weeks where Magic Valley Paramedics was having some staffing issues because of COVID. The EMS supervisor said some members of the leadership team contracted COVID and that led to some staffing issues, but they have been able to mitigate those with the flexible staffing model.

“It hasn’t been significant for us but we have had times where that was an issue,” Rhom said.

He also said Magic Valley Paramedics is in the process of hiring for their Community Health EMS team. It is the team that since March has been going out and helping with testing, evaluation, and following up with COVID patients, but the EMS provider is doing good on staffing for the ambulance side of things.

With the surge of COVID cases in the Magic Valley, the City of Twin Falls and Jerome, as well as, the South Central Public Health District board looked at implementing face mask mandates. However, none were passed due largely to resistance from the community. Rhom said he could not necessarily make an opinion on whether or not a mask mandate is appropriate.

The EMS supervisor did say he doesn’t want residents to feel like they can’t call 9-1-1 because they think the hospital is overloaded or overrun.

“We are seeing high volumes but we are still there to help you”, Rhom said.

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