When the weight of seconds hangs the heaviest, it's prayer that New Britain EMS paramedic Maria Desimone relies on while responding to medical emergencies.
"It's all these different thoughts and considerations that come into your head. Just help me to be strong and be confident in my decisions,” Desimone said.
There is an even heavier weight emergency medical services workers like Desimone are carrying lately.
"The EMS infrastructure in the state is stressed," said Bruce Baxter, CEO of New Britain EMS.
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Baxter runs one of Connecticut’s 175 emergency services agencies. He says between fixed revenue, COVID fatigue, lower EMT and paramedic enrollment, and minimum wage increasing in other professions, these frontline healthcare workers are feeling the pressure to keep up with the times.
The state collects information from EMS agencies across Connecticut. NBC Connecticut Investigates took a look into annual reports from 2018 and 2020. The average response time for emergency calls has gone up, way up, according to the state’s own report.
In 2018, it took an average of eight minutes from the time of dispatch to arrival at the scene. In 2020, it took 16 minutes from the time of dispatch to the arrival at the scene for emergency calls.
"There could be quite a few different factors when it comes to that extension of those response times and one of those could be staffing levels. A lot of agencies are in dire straits when it comes to staffing,” said paramedic Robert Glaspy.
"Response times are very, very important. It helps us to facilitate things and make sure that the quality of care is more efficient and timely,” Glaspy said.
While major events like car crashes and heart attacks are a small percentage of events EMS personnel respond to, when they happen, the clock starts ticking and time matters.
The American Heart Association estimates a six-minute response time to a heart attack significantly increased survival rates.
Baxter says response times haven’t been impacted in New Britain yet, with the state reporting a nine-minute response time in his region.
"Doesn't mean that it won't at some point,” Baxter said.
Peter Canning, a paramedic and EMS Coordinator with UConn, says he feels the strain.
"I just think that you need to increase the reimbursements -- offer better incentives for people,” Canning said.
Advocates say the state isn’t keeping up with what’s going on. The state Office of Emergency Medical Services is mandated to file a report every year, but it hasn’t, and in fact, released the 2020 and 2018 reports this year with little notice or fanfare.
"Unfortunately for us, the data coordinator actually retired right about the time that we had a missing year. There actually have been two missing years,” said Michael Zacchera, a regional EMS coordinator at the Office of Emergency Medical Services.
Advocates like Glaspy worry the incoming statistics are slow to arrive and seem to go unnoticed at the State Capitol and by city leaders.
"I just want to stress the importance of legislators and different committees taking a look at what's going on in EMS, I think it's important that they get involved,” Glaspy said.
"It is an emergent epidemic, the system is at grave risk,” Baxter said.