East TN ambulance services feeling the pinch as hospitals, ERs back up with patients

Local News

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — As hospitals are filling up with patients, ambulance services are preparing future patients by warning them of long wait times at the emergency room.

Anderson County Emergency Medical Services posted on social media asking people to go to urgent clinics or primary care physicians instead of the ER if their condition isn’t serious.

“If you call for an ambulance, you’re not guaranteed to be placed in an ER room right away. Many patients are being triaged and placed in lobbies until ER rooms become available,” the post states.

Daryl Warren, Knox County operations manager for AMR, said that’s exactly what’s happening in hospitals that his crews transport to right now.

“Kind of a daily struggle for us. Up to eight ambulances waiting for, to offload. And some of those offload times are a couple to several hours at times,” Warren said.

Warren said ambulances and hospitals have been busy nonstop since the start of the pandemic, but there was a little bit of a slow down in the spring.

But, ever since the delta variant came into play in East TN a few weeks ago, they’re back to being busy. At times no ambulances have been available.

“We’ve seen this week, several reports of very low ICU beds available. So, when ICU beds aren’t available, those patients are being held in the emergency department because there’s no other place to put them,” Warren said. “If there’s no beds upstairs, there’s not much relief for the emergency room staff and hospitals, and that trickles down into EMS.”

Warren said when they have to wait with patients (while still giving care) as they wait to be admitted or triaged, that means fewer ambulances are out taking calls for other people needing medical care.

That is when AMR puts its surge policy into action.

“The surge policy we put into place, we will have one crew watch multiple patients at one time in an effort to get more ambulances back out on the road and treat those patients that are out on the streets that need our services as well,” Warren said.

Warren said there’s a lot of issues affecting wait times with EMS and in the ER departments. He said the health care industry as a whole has a staffing shortage. Plus, patients are having longer stays.

“You also have a higher level acuity patients in those hospitals, meaning that they’re a lot more sick, which means their hospital stays are greater,” Warren said.

Warren said there is no one to blame, but it is a problem the community can help fix.

First of all, AMR just recently started a new program to help alleviate some of the traffic going into the ER.

It’s called ET3. Warren said whenever an AMR ambulance arrives at a home, the EMTs will determine whether the patient has symptoms fitting for the ER, or something a teledoctor can handle.

If the patient doesn’t seem to need to go to the hospital right away, the EMT calls up the teledoctor and they talk with the patient to determine the best course of action.

“They will interview that patient and in that case, that patient may be recommended to stay home where they can be written prescriptions for and cared for. They may have an option to go to an urgent care, an alternate destination, or that teledoc may say, ‘Well, you do meet some criteria. You need to be seen at an emergency room,'” Warren said.

Despite the backlog, AMR employees are still giving their patients the best care possible, and hospitals are doing the same.

Covenant Health System gave this statement about the current status of hospitals:

Emergency departments at hospitals throughout our area are currently very busy. Wait times will vary depending on the urgency of patients’ medical needs so that those with the most serious or life-threatening conditions can receive prompt care. Covenant Health hospitals are making every effort to see emergency patients quickly and to make wait times as comfortable as possible. Those who need emergency care, especially for serious injuries or conditions such as a heart attack or stroke, should not hesitate to come to the hospital.

Covenant Health

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