PENDER COUNTY — Following the recent Covid-19 omicron surge, Pender County is reporting emergency calls are up, staffing is down, and wait times are longer at area hospitals.
To help alleviate the volume, the state has sent in strike teams to southeastern counties. New Hanover and Brunswick received two and Pender received one.
Pender EMS division chief Stacey Wright said one-quarter of calls coming in across the county are Covid-related. Patients are having to wait anywhere from one to three hours to be seen at area Novant hospitals — New Hanover Regional Medical Center, ED North, Cape Fear Campus and Pender Medical Center — and ambulances are regularly out of commission up to three-and-a-half hours, also awaiting space to drop off patients.
“[The] majority of that time is standing with a patient on our stretcher in the hallways of the ER until a bed becomes open, so we can be assigned,” Wright said. “Sometimes it does mean the crew and the patient are sitting in the unit.”
Wright said the longest wait time in recent months has been six hours.
Staffing shortages have exacerbated the issues. Fire and EMS teams are typically running with three fewer members per shift, responding to an average of 35 calls a day.
“Compared to some other counties, that does not sound like a lot, but we are the fifth largest county in North Carolina, so our average transport is 85 minutes,” Wright said.
Pender EMS has assured it is not missing any emergency calls; however, outside help will strengthen response time. The North Carolina Office of Emergency Services (NCOEMS) and North Carolina Emergency Management dispatched strike teams for 10 days. The agencies can order further assistance beyond the timeframe as needed.
Pender received a certified medic, certified EMT, plus a fully stocked ambulance on Friday, Feb. 4. The team works 12-hour shifts daily. Though assigned to the west side of the county, the extra crew will answer calls across its entirety.
Throughout 2021, Pender County EMS responded to 1,070 calls, with an average of three per day being Covid-related, according to Wright.
“That average fluctuates as does the local positivity test results over the last couple weeks,” she said.
According to the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services’ Covid-19 dashboard, since Jan. 1 there have been over 4,200 positive tests and four deaths in the county. Currently, over 33% of Covid-19 tests are returning positive in Pender, with more than 600 reported Monday, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Wright said one strike team will make an impact on daily operations within the county’s emergency system.
“If the opportunity comes about, I will request another team,” she said.
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