In Los Angeles County, ambulance workers are being told not to transport patients to hospitals who have a little chance of survival.
The stunning directive is in response to the surge in COVID-19 cases. Hospitals in LA County are at full capacity, and the number of people who have tested positive for the virus has topped 840,000. Right now, more than 8,000 people are in LA hospitals with COVID-19.
Ambulance workers in LA County are being told not to bring patients to the hospital if they have little chance of survival “after 20 minutes of resuscitation efforts in the field,” says Brian Fula-Napoli, a manager for Amwest Ambulance service in North Hollywood.
“This has been standard protocol and practice in other parts of the country and something the county has been talking about moving toward for a while now,” he says. “So although it sounds draconian, it is numbers based.”
Crews have been waiting “six to eight hours” in the ambulance with COVID-19 patients and others waiting for hospital beds, Fula-Napoli says.
On top of the order regarding transporting individuals, EMTs are also being told to conserve oxygen unless a patient’s oxygen levels fall below 90%, he says. The Army Corp of Engineers has been called in to help increase the oxygen supply in LA County.
Nearly 40% of the patients Amwest Ambulance transports are considered COVID-19 positive, Fula-Napoli says, and over the last three weeks, the company has had several workers diagnosed with the virus.
“When you have employees, your frontline workers that are out sick, it requires you to still staff the units that are required within the county,” he says. “So we're investing in overtime and double time to make those expenditures, to make sure that the residents of Los Angeles County are taken care of, but it's a taxing toll.”
Since the vaccine rollout began, Fula-Napoli says employees have been asking him when they can get inoculated. But he doesn’t have an answer for them.
“I know that the county is working hard on trying to get it released, but at this point it's been three weeks that it's been released,” he says. “And here at Amwest Ambulance, our employees still do not have access to the COVID-19 vaccines.”
The message Fula-Napoli wants to deliver to the public is that the coronavirus crisis is far from over.
“Our CEO Boris Krutonog recently said that we're at war with the invisible enemy. This virus does not discriminate by age, by gender, by race,” Fula-Napoli says. “It can affect each and every one of us, and what we can do for ourselves and for each other is make the best decision to protect [ourselves], to protect others.”
This segment aired on January 6, 2021.