By Barbara Taormina
Revere Fire Chief Chris Bright and Dennis Cataldo, president of Cataldo Ambulance Services, met with the City Council this week to discuss concerns about ambulance response times in Revere. Several councillors insisted they were not criticizing the fire department, but they wanted to know if there was anything they could do to increase response times.
Councillor-at-Large Marc Silvestri said he became aware of what may be a problem when he witnessed an incident while he was out campaigning near the corner of Newhall Street. According to Silvestri, the fire department arrived right away but it took 17 minutes for an ambulance to come. “We need some information to know if there’s anything we can do,” said Silvestri, adding that the response time in Revere is just unacceptable.
Cataldo explained that ambulance companies are experiencing a nationwide staffing shortage. “Paramedics generally use the job as a stepping stone to something else,” said Cataldo.
The typically high turnover in the field was made worse by covid. Training for paramedics and emergency medical technicians is done in person in hospitals, but during the pandemic all of that training was closed down for two years. Prior to covid around 17,000 new paramedics nationwide were licensed. Last year, that number stood at 480.
The staffing shortage in emergency care is exacerbated by a shortage of nurses in hospitals and by hospital closures, which both keep ambulance staff tied up in emergency rooms and off the road for an hour for each call.
Revere has two ambulances, one basic care and one advanced care, and a fly-car staffed by a paramedic. “That’s not close to what the city requires,” said Cataldo.
“We’ve tried to be creative about deploying resources based on acuity,” he said. Calls are triaged based on information from the caller. Someone calling because they have had neck pain for four days doesn’t need a lights and siren ambulance. Triage allows the most appropriate vehicle to respond so that an advanced care ambulance will be available for serious calls.
Ward 5 City Councillor John Powers asked about ambulances to Oak Island and Point of Pines, particularly during rush hours with traffic and winter weather. Cataldo acknowledged those were additional challenges.
Rob White, Cataldo’s director of operations, said that when Revere’s ambulances are out responding to calls, ambulances from Winthrop, Chelsea, Lynn and Malden are called for backup and stand ready in spots in Revere.
Councillors asked about acquiring an additional ambulance for the fire department or hiring a second ambulance service company, but needed resources are not available. Still the council agreed ambulance service needs more attention and support from city government.
“It’s not a Revere issue,” said Ward 3 City Councillor Anthony Cogliandro. “It’s an everywhere issue.”