Ambulance companies threatened by COVID-19 pandemic

EMS and ambulance services, many that work for local governments, are rapidly succumbing to COVID-19 as unprecedented demand and costs go up, but revenues and federal aid plunge.

It doesn't matter if they operate in cities, suburbs or the countryside or whether they're public or private. t's possible that we're about to see the collapse of a significant part of our ambulance services.

"The burden and the cost on what Covid has done to our industry is unbelievable," said  Helen Pierson, the CEO of Medic Ambulances, which operates in Vallejo and other parts of the North Bay and Solano County. 

Handling COVID-19 patients is much more difficult, costs more and requires far more personal protective equipment to protect this relentless virus.

"I worry about our crews every day." said Medic Ambulance Regional Manager Brian Meader. 

He also says there's serious reason to worry. "We've had over 17 of our employees test positive, and we currently have eight right now on quarantine pending results, and it's a domino effect." said Meader.

The most devastating expense, responding to a 911 call where transportation is declined or no hospital is available to take the patient.

"Our crews have been there, they've given the first aid, they've assisted them, you know, and then the patient decided they didn't want to go to the hospital. And, that time's on us," said Pierson. "We do not get reimbursed for that."

At an average cost approaching $200,000 each, these ambulances are quite literally rolling hospitals.

"It also comes with a very qualified, very well trained crew and it also comes 24 hours a day," said Rob Lawrence, executive director of the California Ambulance Association.

Back in April, Uncle Sam provided private EMS services with just $350 million in COVID-19 relief funds split between 14,000 companies. That money is long gone and much more is needed right now or the  worst will come.

"We have seen some closures. We are certainly seeing agencies that are unable to fulfill their commitment," said Lawrence.

Nonetheless, EMS crews have been worked to a frazzle and the worst days still lie ahead.

"You lose staff through the attrition of COVID, which we're seeing, and if people have to go into quarantine, which we're seeing, and, very regrettably, if people are dying, and we have lost a large number now," said Lawrence.

A tsunami of patients is arising from an increasingly raging sea of infections.

"And so, all those things are adding up to the almost perfect storm for the EMS today," said Lawrence.

That storm is also growing as a new infections set new records until, one day, a vaccine intervenes.