The Federal Emergency Management Agency has deployed 20 first responders to help Vermont hospitals respond to a surge in COVID-19 cases.

The FEMA support team, which arrived Friday, is comprised of 10 paramedics and 10 EMTs, with most of the first responders deployed to UVM Medical Center. Four have since been assigned to other Vermont hospitals.

The extra staff will be in Vermont at least through the end of the year as “extenders of care” for COVID-19 patients receiving treatment. They will provide basic support, monitor vital signs and help with patient mobility, as well as provide non-clinical assistance like ensuring supplies are ready for patients.

“We have been caring for many patients who are very sick with COVID-19 and other illnesses,” said Stephen Leffler, MD, president and CEO of the UVM Medical Center. “We deeply appreciate the support, and recognize that these first responders are taking time away from their families during the holidays to provide this much-needed help.”

Earlier this month, UVM Medical Center announced it was postponing many elective surgeries in order to open five additional ICU beds in space near operating rooms. Chief Quality Officer Patrick Bender said the support from FEMA will help mitigate some of the impact on UVM Medical Center workers and patients.

“We made a decision that was best for our community’s health to postpone or delay some, but not all, non-essential surgery,” he said. “This allowed us to increase the number of ICU beds at UVM Medical Center. But each decision we make to address the pandemic impacts people – our patients and our staff.”