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Summit County makes progress on reducing EMS transfer times at hospitals

Understaffed hospitals leave paramedics waiting to turn over patients.

SUMMIT COUNTY, Ohio — Skyrocketing COVID-19 cases continue to ripple through our healthcare system, including the availability of EMS ambulances.

For months, fire chiefs in the region have said their paramedics have had to wait too long to drop off patients at short-staffed hospitals, keeping EMS units from responding to other 911 calls.

“There is only so much you can do with questions that there are no answers to and only so much to do when you have more patients than beds and staff,” Cuyahoga Falls Fire Chief Chris Martin said.

EMS units have to stay with their patients until hospital personnel take them. But hospitals with crowded emergency rooms and few beds leave them waiting well beyond their targeted 20-minute transfer time.

Summit County chiefs have reported wait times up to two hours - even before omicron.

Martin, who leads Summit County EMS efforts to address the issue, said drop off times have improved since chiefs have begun meeting weekly with hospital officials about the issue.

“What has really helped us is working with hospitals executives, doctors and nurses,” he said.

He said times have come down considerably though they are still not ideal.

He also credits efforts by the City of Akron and other departments to reduce the runs to emergency rooms.

In Cleveland, the slow turnover at hospitals has at times tied up all available EMS units, according to a review of scanner traffic.

Crowded emergency rooms are in part due to people calling 911 for issues that don’t warrant a trip to the hospital.

Cleveland EMS workers say they hope Mayor-elect Justin Bibb considers creating a special EMS unit that includes a social worker and targets 911 calls that are non-emergencies to help reduce overall hospital runs.

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