Oklahoma Flu Cases Causing Ambulance Shortages

Wednesday, January 14th 2015, 7:57 pm
By: News 9

Flu season is in overtime in Oklahoma and the growing number of patients is keeping EMSA very busy.

The last four days, EMSA has issued a "Level Zero" message, which means they're all out of ambulances at a particular moment.

Level zero status is not nearly as scary as it sounds, but it does send messages to ambulance crews out in the field to hurry up at hospitals and get to another call.

It happens in flu season and when the temperatures plunge, however, this year has been worse for EMSA. The agency has seen 10-12% increase in calls and medics are running back-to-back trips.

“You try to anticipate the flu, it came on a little earlier this year,” said Jim Winham, EMSA Director of Clinical Services. “It's been a little worse than anticipated, so we've seen a big increase in those calls,” he added.

There are so many flu patients, EMSA has periodically run out of ambulances at certain times the last several days.

“Even though it may sound really scary, it changes very, very quick because if we're at a hospital, they may just be dropping a patient off, but they're still available to run calls,” Winham told News 9.

Level Zero does not last long as crews wrap up their current call, but it just shows the volume of patients needing to be taken to the hospital right now.

This flu season, Oklahoma has had more than 800 patients hospitalized, 22 people have died and the state had 150 new cases just last week.

EMSA medics are seeing that increase.

“Our responders, our medics are not immune from it either,” said Winham. “Sometimes they will catch the flu out working quite a bit,” he explained.

EMSA says its men and women have pulled together to stand up to the spike in calls.

The general public would never know about the level zero status because EMSA is still making it to every call in the required response time.