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Denver Health ambulance calls decline as coronavirus keeps people at home

Paramedics were prepared for COVID-19 to overwhelm the hospital system. That hasn't happened

DENVER — Outside Denver Health, it’s quiet. 

From the street you can’t see the ventilators or the nurses or the doctors saving lives. What you can see are the ambulances parked out front.

When the pandemic began, Denver Health paramedics were prepared for the worst. They planned for what it would be like if the number of COVID-19 patients overwhelmed their system and there weren’t enough ambulances. 

Instead, they've found the number of calls they’re running is the lowest it’s been in years.    

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"As this was ramping up we were really preparing ourselves to see sort of a New York City level overwhelming of our system," said Steve Hulac, captain of quality for the Denver Paramedic Division. "What we’ve seen is actually a decrease in our typical call volume down by about 15% or 20%."

Let’s go back to April 2017 when there were 9,429 calls in one month. The following April there were 9,128. April 2019 saw a jump to 9,610 calls. Then came the pandemic. April 2020 saw a drop of around 15% from typical call volume, down to 7,888 calls.

"It seems as though social distancing has had a bigger effect on our typical day-to-day calls than we expected," Hulac said. "This April we ran an average of 263 calls per day. That’s in comparison to last April when we ran an average of 320 calls per day."

Hulac says paramedics are running between 15 and 25 potential COVID calls a day, but car accidents and other calls are down significantly. He also worries people are scared to go to the hospital. 

"The hospital is absolutely the best place to be when you’re sick and the paramedics are the best people to take care of you on the way to the hospital," Hulac said. "It is a little concerning to think about that patients with heart disease and other chronic conditions who might be having some issues and might not be calling 911 right now."

Under the new circumstances come new challenges. The ambulances are disinfected more, often multiple times a day. They use a special disinfectant applied by someone in full PPE, aimed at keeping patients and paramedics safe.

Denver Health said some of its paramedics have gotten infected with COVID-19, though they won’t say how many. Some have recovered and come back to work.

"We’re protecting ourselves and thinking of every patient as though they might have COVID-19," Hulac said. "We have paramedics out in Denver everyday risking their health and their safety taking care of people. That hasn’t changed in the COVID pandemic."

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