Johnston County EMS struggling with staffing shortages as it sees an uptick in COVID-19 calls

Johnston County Emergency Services is reporting nine times more COVID-19-related calls, from an average of one a day about two months ago, to an average of nine a day in the last 15 days.

"We're seeing an increase with really severe respiratory symptoms and we can definitely tell that the increase has happened a lot faster this go around with the introduction of the Delta variant," said Johnston County Emergency Services Deputy Director Josh Holloman.

In addition, Johnston County EMS is responding to a record number of overall calls, from an average of 80 to 100 a day, Holloman said.

The small department is not immune to staff shortages that plague many EMS departments. Holloman said they have 14 vacancies.

"We have been able to respond to all of the calls, where we've been requested," Holloman said. "We actually have been able to maintain our response time as well, which we strive to be under nine minutes as an average response time."

Wait times at local hospitals are getting longer. Holloman says EMS waits with the patient at the hospital until they put them on a bed and transfer care to a nurse there.

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"We've seen an increase in times, from, typically it's something we can do in 10 to 15 minutes and now we're seeing, in some cases, we're seeing it take up to an hour or an hour and a half," Holloman said.

"Just like the hospitals are, we are encouraging people to get vaccinated, people to wear a mask when they're indoors, continue to be safe and take this serious because we're certainly feeling the strain."

Brian Brooks, Assistant Chief of Wake County EMS, said they have seen an increase in COVID-related calls, though they don't have a good way of tracking them.

Brooks said they code any infectious-like illness as a possible COVID call but that many that are coded as possible COVID turn out not to be. Brooks said EMS does not actively track COVID testing after they drop patients off or know the outcome of testing at the hospital.

Holloman said their COVID-related calls are those with patients confirmed to have COVID-19. The department been tracking those numbers.
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