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NC requests FEMA assistance with health care staffing shortages, Medic stretched thin

Medic has implemented mandatory overtime to keep shifts fully staffed, but those extra hours come at a cost: first responders are tired.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — With full hospital beds and ambulances, health care systems across North Carolina are strained due to COVID-19, including Medic, which says it is stretched thin with more vacancies than normal in its workforce. 

Mecklenburg County isn't the only group facing a labor shortage. North Carolina has requested help from FEMA to fill in some of the gaps across the state. 

Earlier this month, Medic implemented mandatory overtime to keep workers on the clock. As a result, they're still able to fully cover shifts and response times haven't slipped. 

But it comes at a price: First responders are tired. 

"They've had some staffing issues and need some folks to drive ambulances, but obviously not just anyone can drive an ambulance," Gibbie Harris, Mecklenburg County's health director, said. 

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Call volumes have climbed to pre-pandemic levels, plus there's been an increase in COVID-19 patients in Mecklenburg county. In August, Medic reported a 300% increase in positive COVID-19 transports. With fewer people going into the field, Medic has requested more resources through local and staff offices of emergency management. 

"We have requested some additional support," Harris said. "We have not heard anything final about what we might be able to expect."

North Carolina officials sent a request to FEMA asking for 50 ambulances and personnel to staff them. Dr. Mandy Cohen, secretary for the Department of Health and Human Services, said resources are strained so the state has called on FEMA for help. 

If FEMA does step in, the state's plan is to spread the ambulances out regionally so that counties can call on them as needed. 

"They do have processes for how they prioritize where they send people but we'll continue to look for that kind of support," Harris said. 

Medic officials said they're hopeful they will receive some support so they can be better prepared if things get worse so response times don't slip. 

Medic issued the following statement to WCNC Charlotte:

“Medic continues to evaluate mitigation options to ensure the Agency is able to meet the 911 emergency response needs in Mecklenburg County.  Call volume is at pre-pandemic levels and Agency staffing is at a deficit.  The influx of COVID activity in our community is straining the entire healthcare system, Medic included.  It is important for Agency leadership to have contingency plans in place beyond the current use of mandatory overtime to handle any additional challenges brought on by the pandemic.  In addition to the options outlined by the NC Office of EMS, Medic has also made resource requests through the local and state offices of Emergency Management.  We have not yet received confirmation that we will receive these resources. We will continue to evaluate viable options to help weather this storm, ensuring this Agency’s ability to respond to medical emergencies in a timely manner.”  

Contact Chloe Leshner at cleshner@wcnc.com and follow her on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.  

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