By Susan Edelman NEW YORK POST April 11, 2020
The city's response times to medical emergencies have surged to alarming levels in the last month with EMS workers arriving too late to save many dying patients, The Post has learned.
Understaffed and overwhelmed with coronavirus cases, EMS response times have doubled in the Bronx — to an excruciating 24 minutes and 55 seconds in March from the month before. "Some people who could have been saved may die," an EMS insider said. Citywide, the average ambulance response time to the most life-threatening cases — cardiac arrest and choking — rose from 7:37 in February to 9:24 last month. Responses to all emergencies jumped from 11:27 to 18:07.
An extra two minutes can mean the difference between life or death, EMS sources say. FDNY ambulances are getting far more calls for cardiac arrests than usual — up to 290 a day last week. Normally, those calls number 70 to 80 a day, said EMS Lt. Anthony Almojera, vice- president of the EMS officers' union.
Most of the added calls appear to be coronavirus-related. "We're seeing people who say, "My family member stopped breathing or became unresponsive," said Almojera, who works in Brooklyn. When questioned, the 911 callers or relatives add, "Oh, he's had a fever and a cough in the last few days."
Many patients are already near death, Almojera said. "Some of them we do get to the hospital, but a big chunk of them pass away. "Those deaths are not counted in the official government COVID-19 tally, he added. "They're either going to the morgues or funeral homes." Among the boroughs, EMS response times show "night and day" differences, city data show.
In the Bronx, response times were the slowest: 10:27 for life-threatening cardiac arrests or choking in March, up from 7:53 in February. For all medical emergencies in the Bronx, the average response time doubled from 12:01 in February to 24:55 in March. The slower response came as calls skyrocketed, from 24,347 incidents in February to 30,398 in March.
Staten Island showed the speediest EMS response: 10:51 for all medical emergencies in March, up from 10:05 in February. March EMS response times were 17:07 in Brooklyn, 16:59 in Queens, and 14:01 in Manhattan. EMS response times have crept up over the past three years, but the city failed to prepare for a widespread epidemic as EMS responders have quit in droves to become firefighters, cops and other higher-paid city workers. "We told them this was coming," said Almojera. "We have urged the city for years to invest in EMS, get people to stay, and increase the workforce. Now the chickens have come home to roost."
The FDNY said daily call volume has increased as much as 50% in the last two to three weeks, including more than 6,500 medical emergencies in one day on March 30 – its busiest day ever. To lower the response times in the Bronx, the department has sent some "rapid-response vehicles," manned by an EMT or firefighter EMT who can render basic life support, but not transport patients. But they still have to wait for an ambulance. Also, FEMA has brought more than 200 ambulances and EMS crews into the 911 system.
FDNY spokesman Frank Dwyer said, "EMTs and paramedics are doing an extraordinary job responding to an unprecedented number of medical calls during a pandemic. This is the busiest period in the history of EMS and our members are continuing to respond 24/7 to care for and protect New Yorkers."
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