THE OXYGEN CRISIS AROSE at Jamaica Hospital Medical Center, which has borne a heavy load of COVID-19 patients and has transferred other patients to Albany in the last week. The coronavirus makes oxygen strain a big problem for hospitals, which are not designed to provide such a flow of oxygen to so many patients in respiratory failure. Ambulances and their paramedic crews from around the country, in New York to help with the virus response, lined up outside Jamaica to take patients to JFK for medevacs out of the city. Some went to the USNS Comfort hospital ship.
Flight records tell more of the story. Within a few hours late Tuesday night, at least 11 medical helicopters converged at JFK and then spread to hospitals from Albany to Philadelphia. One upstate medevac service, Life Net of New York, did two runs from JFK to Albany that night, with its final trip departing JFK at 1:30 a.m. STAT Medevac, another air ambulance service in Pennsylvania, activated four aircraft.
Air evacuation service Air Methods, which has been coordinating many patient transfers out of COVID-19-slammed hospitals in the city, kicked into gear as news came of Jamaica’s overburdened oxygen system. Its communication center in Omaha, Neb., helped dispatch 23 aircraft to be ready for evacuating patients from JFK.
Air Methods’ Jennifer Noce, based in Syracuse, was on the ground at Jamaica Hospital, which was clearly overwhelmed. She began coordinating with Jamaica’s emergency director and charge nurse to locate patients needing transport to Albany Medical Center. The patients were on different floors, so Noce said she “made friends with security” and had them help her locate and move patients—all intubated and on ventilation.
Another Air Methods co-worker was on the ground at JFK managing the wave of medevac crews, while co-worker William Stubba, another Air Methods manager and an experienced paramedic from Poland, N.Y., managed all the moving pieces.
“Bill would call me: ‘I have this asset from this aircraft at JFK, and they’re coming to you,’” said Noce, who was double-checking everything on a spreadsheet while in full protective gear. “I’ve never truly been involved in a real-life scenario like this. This is why you do this, to truly help people. For every crew member that came in, it was about making a difference in someone’s life.”
Stubba insisted it was a day like any other: a day paramedics train for. But he admitted it was a “very hectic evening,” mobilizing flight crews and helicopters after midnight: “These are very stressful, trying times, but given the inherent nature of what we are as nurses, paramedics, this is what we do. This is our own little battlefield that we enter.”