Pinellas paramedics forced to use firetrucks to transport patients as COVID calls overwhelm the system

Pinellas County paramedics say they are struggling to keep up with the amount of COVID-related 911 calls. As the delta variant tears through the unvaccinated population in Tampa Bay, there’s now a hospital bed shortage. 

Paramedics showed FOX 13 News what they're facing as patients get sicker and hospital beds fill. Stephen Glatstein, a special operations supervisor with Sunstar Paramedics, was off to yet another COVID-related 911 call, where someone was having trouble breathing. 

"I would say today is as busy as it has been for the last couple of weeks. We went on condition 3-M around 11 this morning. The system’s very busy," Glatstein said. 

Condition 3-M is when they run out of ambulances and must rely on help from fire rescue to get patients to the hospital. And as they are loaded and dropped off, the ambulances are turned around and back out on the streets as quickly as they can be disinfected. 

MORE: Hour waits for ambulances, low vaccination among first responders strain emergency service in St. Pete

In July, normally about 98% of 911 patients arrived at Pinellas County hospitals by EMS within 15 minutes.

Now, with the delta variant spreading rapidly, only 50-60% are being placed within 15 minutes and 10% of the patients require an hour or more.

On Friday, FOX 13 was there as an ambulance was sidelined, waiting to unload after the hospital ran out of beds in the ER. 

"The ambulance has been waiting here 30-35 minutes. There’s just simply no beds available," Glastein said. 

RELATED: Florida reports 22,783 new COVID-19 cases, 199 deaths, 12,864 hospitalizations Friday

He says he’s never worked under these conditions. 

"I’ve never seen it… You can get a call from downtown St. Pete to Palm Harbor," he said. "Pinellas County EMS is a very good system but it’s just very taxed at this point. It’s putting a lot of stress on EMS and firefighters every day." 

The stress on this healthcare system is what has been feared since the pandemic started in March of 2020. 

The solution, they say, is simple. 

"People not getting vaccinated is complicating the situation and adding to the sickness."