Covid-19: New York paramedics told to leave heart attack sufferers at home if they can't get a pulse

Business Insider US
Ambulances clog the street outside Elmhurst Hospital's trauma unit in Queens, New York on March 30, as the city deals with a tidal wave of coronavirus cases
  • The New York Post obtained a memo sent out to New York City ambulance workers, advising them not bring cardiac arrest patients to the hospital if they can't get a pulse at the scene.
  • Such patients were previously brought to the hospital, where doctors would try to revive them, but these cases are being deprioritised during the coronavirus oubreak.
  • The city's ambulance service has been overwhelmed by the pandemic. Last week, Reuters reported that about 20% of the city's EMTs weren't working because they were either sick with coronavirus or had been exposed.
  • For more stories go to

The coronavirus outbreak has left New York City's ambulance services overwhelmed, causing a new directive not to transport some heart attack sufferers to the hospital.

The New York Post obtained a memo that was sent out to the city's Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs) on Tuesday, saying that if they can't get a pulse from a cardiac arrest patient at the scene, then they shouldn't transport them to the hospital as is normally advised.

The directive was sent out by the Regional Emergency Medical Services Council of New York, which oversees the city's ambulance service. The organisation did not immediately respond to Business Insider's request for comment.

The Tuesday memo told paramedics to still try and resuscitate cardiac arrest patients as usual, but changed its guidance on what to do if they can't restart the heart at the scene.

If paramedics fail to get a pulse, they should turn the body over to the New York Police Department or its body removal team, the new directive said.

"They're trying to do what they can with the people who have the most likely chance of being saved," one anonymous EMT worker told the Post.

The US has now become the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak, with New York City its hardest-hit city. As of Wednesday, there were more than 45,700 cases in the city and more than 9,700 hospitalised with Covid-19. The city has recorded 1,374 deaths due to the virus.

New York's Empire State Building flashed red on Wednesday to honor the city's first responders.

'We don't even have time to go to the bathroom'

Hospitals as well as ambulance services have been overwhelmed.

Lewis Marshall, the board chairman of the Regional Emergency Medical Services Council, told Reuters last week that 20% of its 4,500 ambulance workers were unable to work - either because they themselves were sick with Covid-19, or had been exposed to it. That number may rise to 30% soon.

The EMTs that are able to work, meanwhile, are being made to do 16- to 17-hour days, two anonymous workers told Reuters.

"We don't even have time to go to the bathroom," one EMT in Harlem said.

However, the fire department, of which the ambulance service is a part, denied that workers were being forced to do double shifts.

EMS lieutenant Vincent Variale, who heads a supervisors' union, said that "if this continues, we fully expect to have bodies on the street."

Variale said on March 26 they received more than 6,000 calls in one day. About 400 calls that were deemed less serious were left on hold, he said.

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