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’Outside the hospital & inside the emergency department are struggling for staff members’: GMR Chief Medical Officer

Dr. Ed Racht, Chief Medical Officer at Global Medical Response, joins Yahoo Finance to discuss the impacts of the pandemic on the EMS sector.

Video Transcript

[MUSIC PLAYING]

BRIAN CHEUNG: The wave of the delta variant that we find ourselves in has spurred first responders in the health care industry back into action. Global Medical Response is one team that's moving assets around to send ambulances and personnel to hard-hit communities in Louisiana and Missouri. And for more on this, we have GMR's chief medical officer. That's Dr. Ed Racht here on Yahoo Finance.

And Dr. Racht, thanks again for hopping on. I just want to kind of get some vantage point on how GMR is working with FEMA, first of all, to provide extra help to those hard-hit communities in, again, Louisiana and Missouri. And just also what you're seeing on the ground in terms of the severity of this wave and kind of how impactful it really is, especially among those who are unvaccinated?

ED RACHT: This is an interesting segment of the COVID pandemic. The responses that we're now involved in, that EMS nationally is involved in are slightly different than what we've seen through the rest of the pandemic. So we're seeing hospitals that are strained to their max. We're seeing staffing shortages inside the walls of the emergency department. So all of that moves downstream, obviously, to the out-of-hospital environment.

So the volumes are up. The patients are similar, with some differences in presentation. It's still very difficult in hard-hit communities for our patients to get inside the walls of a hospital. So it's created a whole new set of dynamics in terms of patient navigation and getting them to the right level of care.

JULIA LA ROCHE: And Dr. Racht, of course, we know EMS, those who are driving the ambulances, they're such an important part of our health care system. And I know you were on, I want to say it was back in December, talking about the need for aid for the broader EMS community. How is the community doing these days? What's the latest there?

ED RACHT: So it's struggling. It continues to struggle, I think, as a profession. EMS is the front of the frontline of health care. And one of the challenges all of health care is facing, as we know, are employees, are the right level of health care providers. A lot of health care providers are choosing to leave the profession. EMS is no different.

And we have challenges with our own colleagues becoming ill with COVID or being quarantined if they've been exposed. And you add on top of all of that, this has been an exhausting 20 months for our folks in the field. It's emotionally exhausting. And there's probably not a paramedic or EMT in the United States that doesn't know someone personally who's died as a result of COVID.

So it's associated with that mental health burden as well. It's a challenging time right now.

BRIAN CHEUNG: Can you give us some perspective on how what we're seeing now is comparing to the depths of the pandemic in March and April of last year when it comes to bed placement? Because the idea is that if it's more difficult to get a bed or ICU units are particularly constrained, people might be waiting in ambulances more. That increases the need for your type of services.

And then secondly, do you expect this to be an issue in communities beyond Missouri and Louisiana? Do you expect to have more of your ambulances deployed to other corners of the country?

ED RACHT: Yeah, so the first question, your question is spot-on. So depending on the environment, we are seeing significant challenges. In EMS, we call it wall time, where the ambulance has a patient that needs to be admitted into the hospital. And there are just, frankly, no available stretchers, or there are no staff members to accept the patient. And the patient is being managed essentially on a stretcher outside the hospital, waiting to get in.

In those communities that are hard-hit, those wall times can be substantial, measured in hours. And in those areas that aren't, we don't see that same challenge.

We do know, just like the entire pandemic, that, depending on the illness burden and the health care system's ability to step up, there's significant variation from community to community. So we manage that regularly with our health care system partners.

The biggest challenge now is both sides of the glass door, outside the hospital and inside the emergency department, are struggling for staff members. So that's a new challenge in this episode of the pandemic.

JULIA LA ROCHE: Let's explore that further. You talk about the issue of struggling for staff members. I know with the EMS, you also mentioned that early in the conversation. Can you contextualize that for us and the severity of the problem? And what needs to be done to help make some progress as it relates to staffing? What would be beneficial?

ED RACHT: So to add flavor, individuals get into emergency medical services because they truly want to create order out of someone's chaos, regardless. When they're tired, when they're exhausted, when it's raining, their mission is to take care of patients. That's why they got into it.

Over the past 20 months, over and over and over again, the physical exhaustion, the emotional exhaustion, and the personal risk-- so many of our colleagues worry about taking an infection home to their family members and getting their family members sick. Resources are a challenge.

We compete in EMS for providers with hospitals or other health care entities. So recruiting has become a challenge. And frankly, I think a lot of folks who, two years ago would have said, I want to do EMS for the rest of my career are a little bit less likely to jump in, given the dynamic of the pandemic. It's an entirely different practice of medicine in the streets than it was two years ago. So EMS is essentially resetting what an out-of-hospital practice of medicine looks like.

BRIAN CHEUNG: Yeah. And that might be a function of the broader macro trend in labor markets. Similar stories playing out in every other industry as well. But Global Medical Response chief medical officer Dr. Ed Racht, thanks again for stopping by Yahoo Finance this afternoon.