Texas sends ambulance strike teams to tackle virus surge

A five-ambulance squad was sent to Cameron County where the surge has overwhelmed EMS and hospital resources

Fernando Del Valle
Valley Morning Star, Harlingen, Texas

HARLINGEN, Texas — The state’s ambulance strike team is on the road.

Now, a second five-ambulance squad is on its way to Cameron County.

“Having additional resources is a benefit for the entire county,” Harlingen City Manager Dan Serna said Tuesday, adding Brownsville officials requested the strike team’s help.

Across the county, residents are surging hospitals, leading ambulance companies like the South Texas Emergency Care Foundation to wait outside emergency rooms for as long as 4.5 hours.

“They’re responding to a lot of calls,” Bill Aston, STEC’s executive director, said.

In response to local calls for help, the county’s Emergency Management office requested the state send a five-ambulance strike team to put additional units on the road, Juan Martinez, the department’s operations section chief, said.

“All of our ambulance providers were having long wait times at the ER,” Martinez said, adding the state program is coming here at no charge to the cities and county.

At the emergency rooms, many residents’ fear of the coronavirus was leading ambulances to bog down for as long as 4.5 hours, pulling them away from serving critically ill patients requiring hospitalization.

“There’s a lot of fear,” Rene Perez, STEC’s director of transport services, said.

In April, Perez told city commissioners STEC could respond to residents’ calls stemming from the coronavirus.

But as new cases soared, more residents began calling for ambulances.

“The pandemic — it’s a different world for everyone,” Perez said.

Many residents are calling ambulances to take them to hospitals to test for COVID-19, he said.

“It starts with the community,” Perez said. “With the community going to the hospital to get care they should get at a doctor’s office, our hospitals are being bombarded. The majority are relatively stable patients. They want to know if they’ve got COVID and they want to get tested. There are no beds, there’s no space, so everything is backed up in the emergency room. You’re seeing that all over the state.”

Since January, City Commissioner Frank Puente has pushed to allow other ambulance companies to offer lucrative non-emergency transport within STEC’s service area.

In April, Puente requested commissioners temporarily lift a city ordinance’s restrictions banning other ambulance companies from entering STEC’s service area.

But commissioners voted down Puente’s request.

“We had asked to lift the ban so other companies can come in and assist STEC in case they get overwhelmed with calls,” Puente said Tuesday.


©2020 Valley Morning Star (Harlingen, Texas)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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