Calif. county EMS crews told to 'assess and refer' patients due to staff shortages
The new policy should help hospitals cut about 15-20% of daily calls for service, said Dan Lynch, emergency medical services director
The Fresno Bee
FRESNO, Calif. — The spread of COVID-19's omicron variant has Fresno County leaders weighing drastic efforts to be able to serve the sickest patients, officials said Wednesday.
The county the same day began using an "assess and refer" policy when responding to medical calls to 911, according to Dan Lynch, emergency medical services director for Fresno County.
That means emergency medical personnel who arrive in an ambulance following a medical call will assess a patient to see if the person truly needs to be transported or can be referred to another medical provider.
The policy change came following omicron's surge in California and the central San Joaquin Valley. Fresno County tallied 356 people in hospital emergency rooms, including 55 in intensive care units, medical officials said.
Lynch said the ambulance policy should help hospitals cut about 15%-20% of daily calls — which can reach about 600 in a day — for service or about 16 patients a day. "It may not seem like a whole lot of patients per day but it does make a difference," he said.
So officials also asked Wednesday that people only call 911 for help in a life- or limb-threatening emergency. Symptoms that need emergency assistance can include trouble breathing, persistent pain or pressure in the chest, new confusion, bluish lips or face, or an inability to wake or stay awake.
Cases and deaths
Officials said the omicron spread will likely continue to grow into February. Fresno County has counted 163,509 cases of the virus through Wednesday, which is 1,916 more than the previous day, according to Dr. Rais Vohra, the interim county health officer.
"They will continue to rise," he said. "The forecast is they will rise precipitously as part of the omicron surge."
There have been 2,404 fatal cases since the pandemic began.
Vohra said hospitals are overwhelmed. "It really does feel like things are stretched to a breaking point," he said.
The Centers for Disease Control has now approved a fourth vaccine dose for those who are immuno-compromised. The CDC also recommends a booster at five months, rather than six, since the second dose of the vaccine.
Nurses and doctors
Vohra said about one in 10 hospital staffers has tested positive for COVID-19 in the Fresno County region.
Community Medical Centers reported that 717 employees are in self isolation, and 690 have tested positive for the virus.
That shortage has health officials examining plans to sooner bring back nurses and other medical staff into hospitals who have tested positive for COVID-19 but who are not showing symptoms.
"That is just a harm-reduction strategy looking at the risks and benefits and making sure that we are trying to keep our hospitals operating," Vohra said. "Other facilities, as well, not just hospitals."
Vaccines and tests
Fresno County has 56% of its population fully vaccinated, according to Joe Prado, assistant director of the Fresno County Department of Public Health. About 60% of the county's 12- to 17-year-olds have at least one vaccine and about 19% of those 5 to 11 have at least one.
The county expects to get 84,000 at-home test kits — each contains two tests — from the state, but that has not yet been confirmed, he said. Of those, 7,500 kits are set to go to restaurants to use on employees when necessary.
They will also be targeted at 32 ZIP codes most burdened by the virus, Prado said. The kits not already allocated can go out on a first-come first-serve basis, and a confirmation from the state could be about 48 hours away.
The county has set up a website to distribute those kits, but it is not yet live. "As soon as we have kits on hand, we will flip the switch," he said.
To find a testing site, go to fcdph.org/covid19testing.
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