New York City faces Christmas EMS shortage as Omicron wave makes city sick
NEW YORK — All they wanted for Christmas was more help.
The FDNY faced a shortage of EMS crews over the holidays, stretching the department as it struggled to respond to a wave of emergency calls made worse by the Omicron wave.
About 19% of the city’s more than 4,000 emergency medical service workers were sick on Christmas Day on Saturday, compared to a typical rate of around 5%, an FDNY spokesperson said.
The shortage – caused in part by crews isolated with COVID-19 cases – comes as the city’s daily number of cases continued a record streak.
New York state figures show there were over 27,000 confirmed cases of the virus in the city in the 24-hour period ending Friday morning, and a positivity rate of over 10% . Hospitalization rates in cities, however, remain lower than previous pandemic peaks.
But Anthony Alomojera, vice president of Local 3621 – the FDNY EMS officers union – pointed out that there was still a stampede of New Yorkers unvaccinated with COVID-19 who need ambulances.
“Christmas Day is usually not that busy,” Alomojera said. “These are not people who fall and break their legs. It’s linked to COVID.
During the holidays, the FDNY received approximately 4,500 ambulance calls per day. With too few teams to do the job, the FDNY on Friday removed the department’s cap on overtime for EMS workers – and will allow teams to work until 6 p.m. “at their discretion,” according to a memo from service.
Personal leave is on hold – and most training courses have been suspended to allow crews to answer calls, the memo said.
The FDNY took similar steps to free teams in early November, when hundreds of department workers called in sick to protest Mayor Bill de Blasio’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate for city workers.
Alomojera said the memo means teams are mandated to work extra shifts – and EMS workers are fed up after spending nearly two years on the frontlines of the pandemic.
“It’s the perfect storm,” Alomojera said. “You have pandemic burnout and an incredibly young workforce, the majority have less than five years of work. Paramedics and medics are doing a good job, but the job has been done by the city. “
Alomojera was working from EMS 40 station in Sunset Park – and said there was only one crew available at Christmas to answer calls throughout South Brooklyn. “They are pulling units to work in other areas,” he said. “We have units crossing the bridge to Staten Island because there is no one there.”
Alomojera spent the day preparing a Christmas dinner for the dozen EMS workers who operate from Station 40 – but he didn’t think the teams would get a chance to sit down for a meal.
“I make take out plates,” Alomojera said. “They’re going to be out all day.