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Paramedics struggle with no available ICU beds in southern Illinois

Published: Sep. 15, 2021 at 5:59 PM CDT
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WAYNE CO., Ill. (WFIE) - As of Wednesday morning, there were no intensive care unit beds available in Illinois Medical Service Region 5.

Region 5 encompasses Edwards, Wabash, Wayne and White Counties. It extends to the southern tip of Illinois.

With no ICU beds available in Region 5, Wayne County Ambulance Service is tasked with taking transfer patients out of the area.

Ordinarily, they would take them to a closer place like Paducah or Evansville, but even larger local hospitals have started to overflow.

“Transfers are going instead of just an hour away, they’re going four or five hours,” explained their chief paramedic, B.J. Pennington.

He said that’s essentially a 10-hour round trip where an ambulance and its crew are unavailable.

The ICU hasn’t been the only problem.

“Even in the local [emergency room], patients are being treated on our cot while we’re waiting on a bed,” he said.

This means first responders have been constantly waiting to be ready to help someone.

With constant staff shortages, Pennington said every second is potentially an emergency they’re too late to reach.

“We keep two staff 24/7 and we can try to call in a third crew if they’re available,” he said. “Sometimes there just isn’t a third crew available.”

Health officials have said the hospitals are full because there are too many COVID-19 patients.

Pennington said until the pandemic dies down, they’ll always run the risk of being too busy to help a patient in need.

“They either have to wait or try another service,” he said. “Those other services are just as busy as we are.”

Pennington explained there’s always someone available to answer a 911 call, but responding to an emergency could take some time.

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