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Federal team helping Syracuse hospital fight omicron surge

Payne Horning
WRVO News (file photo)

Upstate University Hospital in Syracuse has gotten some much needed help for its emergency department from a federal team of medical professionals. A 31- member team of doctors, pharmacists, nurses, paramedics and others is in Syracuse in the midst of a two-week deployment, part of Gov. Kathy Hochul’s plan to fight the winter surge of COVID-19 cases.

"We’re working in the ER,” said Tim Tackett, lead member of the National Disaster Medical System that’s camping out in Syracuse right now. “We’re supplementing ER staff because of the surge, we’re doing ER augmentation, and decompression. We’re decreasing the wait times in the ER. We’re decreasing wait times for EMS."

For a hospital like Upstate that’s in the midst of a massive staffing shortage, it’s help that’s badly needed. Emergency Room Chief Dr. William Paolo says, for example, these disaster team members have been able to ease one of the biggest bottlenecks caused by the health care shortage: getting patients out of ambulances.

"EMS comes to the emergency department, and they come with a patient. If we can’t get that patient off the stretcher and put them into our stretcher and put them into our rooms, that EMS rig can’t go out and respond to a 911 call, because they’re trapped in our emergency department,” said Paolo. “So we really care about offloading because that matters to the community. And if we’re not able to get you off a stretcher, we’re holding somebody there who can’t respond. Since they’ve been here, we’ve cut that time in half."

Paolo says the extra hands have a more profound effect than better ER wait times. They’re injecting a shot of adrenaline into a beleaguered staff that has been the center of the pandemic for almost two years, while being in the midst of a nationwide medical staff shortage.

"If you can bring a team in such that we can do what we normally do and not have to really think about creative ways to do it because we’re in a resource austere environment makes a huge difference for morale," said Paolo.

Tackett hails from Arkansas and has been traveling all over the country during the pandemic. He said the Syracuse trip will be memorable because the federal crew was able to assimilate into the Upstate system in half the time it usually takes.

So what happens once they’re gone next weekend?

“Will it be sustainable after we leave? We don’t know,” said Tackett. “We’re hoping we'll ride the peak, and the down. If we look at the projections, it looks like we’ll be leaving as the peak is over and we’re heading downhill. But it’s hard to predict."

The team has been at Upstate in the midst of an omicron surge that’s broken records for one-day totals, and seen hospitalization rates the highest they’ve been in a year.

Ellen produces news reports and features related to events that occur in the greater Syracuse area and throughout Onondaga County. Her reports are heard regularly in regional updates in Morning Edition and All Things Considered.