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Private ambulance services struggle to stay afloat during pandemic

Posted at 10:58 PM, Dec 03, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-03 23:58:48-05

The economic impact of COVID-19 can be felt everywhere, even in our healthcare industry.

Many private emergency medical services (EMS) are struggling across the country due to higher expenses for extra gear and safety precautions during a global pandemic. That impact can be felt in Central Texas.

Over the past nine months, first responders and ambulance services have dealt with far more than just the coronavirus.

“Across the nation, the front line providers are feeling it, and the volume is starting to come back up on them, so it's getting busy again for them,” said Global Medical Response Regional Vice President of Operations, Sonny Geary.

“Right now, the call volume is about normal, but the accumulation of the calls are much higher. We’ve seen much higher incidents in cardiac arrests. We see much higher incidents of domestic violence. We see a lot of things that you might expect when people are under a lot of stress. Then you have the possibility that 20% to 25% of the callers might have the coronavirus,” said MedStar spokesperson and President of National Association of Emergency Medical Technicians, Matt Zavadsky.

Due to COVID-19, a lot of private ambulance services are providing medical treatments to patients on the spot, if they can be treated without outside the emergency room, in order to protect medical care providers and not overload the hospitals.

But EMS only gets paid if patients are transported to the hospital.

“If we don’t transport, generally there is no payment for that, because we didn’t transport. So by us trying to do the right thing... in Waco, in Fort Worth, anywhere in the country. By us navigating patients to the right location of care, the hospitals are benefiting, the payers are benefiting. The only organizations that are getting hurt by that protocol is the ambulance service,” said Zavadsky.

Add onto that the higher expenses of more PPE, and many private ambulance companies are struggling to stay afloat.

“Hospitals are full. A lot of them are full nowadays with potential COVID patients, so it's been a struggle. The majority of ambulance services are small, local businesses in rural areas, but when you look at the government assistance received, it equals to about $4,500 per ambulance, but when you look at the costs, we really need $43,000 or $45,000 per ambulance,” said Geary.

“Back in January, we used about 10 N95 masks per day doing 350 calls, and those N95 masks costs us $0.67. Today, we are using 200 to 250 a day because everybody is wearing N95 masks and oddly those costs $3.50,” said Zavadsky.

As a part of the CARES Act, private ambulance services received a small portion of funds for relief, but still received a much lower amount than nursing homes and hospitals.