COVID spike crippling ambulance service, 50 patients need transport daily

The steady increase in COVID-19 cases from October into November has resulted in the Global Medical Response of T&T (GMRTT) ambulance service transporting up to 50 infected patients daily to hospitals for medical attention.

GMRTT has a fleet of 48 ambulances.

With the Delta variant on track to becoming the new dominant strain, GMRTT’s workforce has been put under severe strain and pressure to convey critically ill COVID patients to public hospitals for urgent treatment.

“The situation has been unrelenting in the last few weeks for us,” GMRTT’s chief executive officer Paul Anderson told Guardian Media yesterday.

When the State of Emergency and curfew are discontinued month-end, Anderson said GMRTT would have to brace itself for a further spike in cases and delivery of services.

“We are going to keep a close eye on that.”

Pressed as to the number of daily calls GMRTT receives from families requesting their services, Anderson said, “lately it has been 40 to 50 cases. This is our highest volume. It is as high as we have seen.”

The jump in cases, Anderson said has been draining his staff physically, mentally and emotionally.

“It’s a slow burnout crisis. It has been a continuous burden on my staff.”

The cases, Anderson said are scattered throughout the country.

Of these COVID cases they transport, Anderson said the majority are unvaccinated.

“Our data is going to reflect what already exists in the parallel health care system….in hospitals where it is greater than 93 per cent while persons that are admitted in the ICU and High Dependency Unit that are unvaccinated, and so, our experience would reflect that.”

In June, GMRTT transported 25 COVID cases a day.

Yesterday, the Health Ministry reported over 300 new infections and nine deaths.

With the parallel health system at times nearing capacity, Anderson said these COVID-19 patients are taken to the A&Es (Accident and Emergency) and put into separate sections of the Casualty Department and then isolation rooms.

A non-COVID-19 patient who has difficulty breathing Anderson said “it takes us a long time to hand over that patient to the A&E staff because the whole system is getting clogged. And that is what happens when resources start to populate 80, 90 and 100 per cent capacity in some cases on a continuous basis…it is going to cause a bottleneck and back up somewhere and that tends to openly manifest in the Casualty and Emergency departments of any hospital.”

Anderson said it takes GMRTT extended periods “to hand over a patient because there is nowhere to put that person.”

He admitted that increase in patients, GMRTT had to devise a faster way to sanitise its 48 ambulances.

“It varies based on a number of factors…it can be short as 15 minutes or it can be up to an hour.”

As a health care professional, Anderson said he was troubled as to why there was vaccine hesitancy among the population.

“ I really think that people are making decisions contrary to their best interest… unfortunately the misinformation campaigns. It startles me that we are at the point of pleading with 40 per cent of the adult population to get a vaccination that can prevent them from carrying this infection to others in their family who may not be able to be vaccinated…such as children under 12.”

“I do think that there is definitely room for improvement in the vaccination uptake among our population.”

Questioned if it was a requirement for GMRTT’s staff to be vaccinated, Anderson said from November 1, its unvaccinated workers were required to “receive a weekly viral test in order to work.”

He said it was in the company’s best interest to have staff fully jabbed.

“I can’t afford for the Delta variant to wade through and take down people in our workforce.”

Secondly, Anderson said people who access their services would also have an expectation that they are safe from being infected by one of their providers.

Anderson said while it’s a personal choice for an employee not to take the vaccine, they would have to pay for the tests.

“To able to assist them is that, we are able to administer it internally for much, much less than it would cost them to go to a private lab. We have been doing the testing in-house at a reduced cost…so it is not that big of a burden.”

GMRTT has a workforce of 350.

Of this figure, 22 employees are unvaccinated.

“That is pretty good…but it is not good enough. I will be satisfied when the number reaches 100 per cent.”

GMRTT charges the Health Ministry a standard fee for every patient it transports to hospitals, even COVID patients.

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