Kentucky emergency responders continue to push through pandemic

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Posted at 6:16 PM, Sep 29, 2021

RICHMOND, Ky. (LEX 18) — Kentucky hospitals remain full at critical levels due to COVID-19.

The National Guard was deployed across the state and tents are set up at several healthcare facilities to help with traffic flow.

For the people who transport our loved ones, EMS workers, this is a critical time too.

"Nothing went away. We're still seeing overdose deaths, strokes, heart attacks, car wrecks, all the things that you see," said Carlos Coyle, the director of Madison County EMS.

Madison County's vaccination rate continues to hover near 50%. Woodford County has one of the highest rates in the state.

But during the delta variant surge, both departments, and most across the state, were impacted.

"Runs there for 2-3 weeks ago were averaging about 50-60% of our call volume was COVID-based of some sort," said Woodford County EMS Director Freeman Bailey.

"I think one day we had around 80 calls in one day, which is an incredible amount of calls for a department like ours," said Coyle.

Over a two-month span earlier this year, Coyle says on average, an ambulance transported fewer than two COVID-related patients a week.

"Thought we were seeing light at the end of the tunnel and then the delta variant comes and we've seen a spike like we've never seen last year," said Coyle.

Last week marked the busiest of the pandemic. Coyle says the department transported 32 known COVID-positive patients to hospitals.

The time on the road for crews is also increasing because when hospital capacity is a concern, they have to look outside of Madison County for beds.

"Our transports are longer. Typically we're taking these people to Lexington, but those hospitals are already full as well," said Coyle.

While Coyle hopes for a plateau in his county, Freeman Bailey says in Woodford County, the COVID-related calls have slowed.

Paramedics across the state will continue pushing through, but Coyle says some can't help but be impacted.

"They're not machines and they have the same concerns and the same difficulties as anybody else. They just tend to hide them better," said Coyle. "You cannot be in this profession very long if you didn't care about people. So it's certainly tugging on the mental health of all healthcare workers and first responders."

LEX 18 spoke with Battalion Chief Jordan Saas with the Lexington Fire Department.

While hospitals in Lexington are near capacity, Saas the call volume is actually lower than this point last year.

Within the 600-employee department, Saas says 2020 was taxing for the staff, especially before the vaccine arrived. But currently, he reports fewer than ten crew members are in quarantine or isolation.

He told us that some vaccinated employees are among those contracting COVID-19, but they are consistently not getting as sick as those that are unvaccinated.

As for Woodford County, Bailey says his department is 97% vaccinated.