Fresno County reinstates EMS assess and refer policy

The Fresno County Department of Public Health implements a policy to reduce strain on local hospitals as COVID-19, flu and RSV cases increase

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Serena Bettis
Published November 22, 2023  • 
11:30 am

FRESNO COUNTY – The public health department is taking steps to ensure area hospitals do not become overrun with patients this winter by implementing the “assess and refer” policy for emergency medical calls. 

The Fresno County Department of Public Health (FCDPH) announced the policy implementation on Nov. 17, explaining that when Emergency Medical Services (EMS) personnel respond to a call, they will assess a patient’s conditions and determine if emergency transport is strictly necessary. If the patient is stable and does not require emergency transport, EMS personnel will provide an alternate recommendation.

“The county has implemented the assess and refer policy to slow down the surge of non-emergency patients at hospital emergency departments,” EMS Director Dan Lynch said in the press release.

According to the press release, FCDPH and the Central California Emergency Medical Services Agency (CCEMSA) recommend that — if a medical emergency is not present — members of the public explore “alternative health care options” before turning to EMS, including primary care physicians, urgent care clinics and telehealth appointments.

The agencies “are emphasizing the selective use of EMS for life- or limb-threatening emergencies,” the press release said. 

This is due to an increase in respiratory illnesses across the county caused by circulating viruses including COVID-19, Influenza and Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV), leading to a strain on local hospitals. The policy has been used before as the county has responded to the waves of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“Regional hospitals are facing challenges in coping with increased activity, particularly in managing traumas and other medical issues,” the press release said. “As a result, the FCDPH and CCEMSA are reimplementing the EMS assess and refer policy to reduce the impact of patients on the local emergency departments and to increase the availability of ambulances.”

CCEMSA serves Fresno, Tulare, Kings and Madera counties. Hospitals within CCEMSA’s Fresno County operations include locations in Fresno, Clovis and Coalinga, as well as Adventist Health in Selma and Reedley. 

Health precautions 

FCDPH is also encouraging residents to prepare for the holiday and winter seasons by getting vaccinated and taking steps to maintain good health. FCDPH recommendations include getting tested for COVID-19 and the flu if symptoms for either illness are present, staying home when sick, wearing a mask in crowded indoor public places, washing hands frequently and properly and covering coughs and sneezes.

The Fresno County website has a list of where residents can get tested for COVID-19 and find other information about COVID-19 tests.

“With the ongoing challenges posed by the COVID-19 virus, combining efforts to prevent the spread of other respiratory viruses is crucial,” the press release said. 

Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show that there were 75 new hospital admissions of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Fresno County in the week leading up to Nov. 11, a 21% increase from the previous week. The county’s hospital admissions level is categorized as low, meaning there were fewer than 10 new hospital admissions per 100,000 people.

For getting vaccinated, FCDPH advised that individuals eligible to receive the COVID-19, flu and RSV vaccines can get all three at the same time. Individuals 6 months old or older should get the latest COVID-19 vaccine booster and should get a flu vaccine annually, ideally before the end of October, the press release said. 

Individuals 60 years old or older are recommended to consult their doctors about getting the RSV vaccine. Pregnant individuals who are between 32 and 36 weeks between the months of September and January should also consider receiving the RSV vaccine, according to FCDPH. 

California residents can visit the My Turn website to schedule a vaccine appointment; the press release recommends that individuals having difficulty obtaining vaccines should contact their local health care provider of the FCDPH for assistance. 

COVID-19 and flu vaccines will continue to be free for most people with health insurance; uninsured and underinsured adults can receive free COVID-19 vaccines from the CDC’s Bridge Access Program. Children aged 18 years old or younger who may not be able to obtain a vaccine can find access through the federal Vaccines for Children program.

Serena Bettis
General Assignment Reporter