Ambulance managers finding ways to deal with patient delays brought on by COVID case spike


LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – The Conway Fire Department sent out an ominous tweet on Friday warning people ambulances may take longer to get to people because hospitals are at or near capacity.

Executive Director of Metropolitan Emergency Medical Services (MEMS) Greg Thompson says the recent spike in COVID-19 cases is causing a domino effect with hospitals across the state. Along with the rapid increase in hospitalizations, many had delayed other healthcare needs.

“The hospitals were already getting full, and you add COVID on top of that, and the COVID patients are hospitalized require a lot more intense care,” Thompson said. “So it’s just taking a lot of resources right now.”

EMTs cannot move to other calls until the patients they are with have been transferred from their cots to a hospital bed. Because of capacity issues, and even the lack of sanitation crews, delays mount at times.

Thompson says there aren’t always delays, though, and ambulance call times ebb and flow just like hospital capacity.

“It’s not happening every minute of every day, so it just depends on when that call comes in,” he explained.

He also noted that if there is an emergency call, MEMS does prioritize their calls so life-threatening situations won’t be ignored.

“You go through the questions we ask, you will determine if it’s a life-threatening call, and we make sure those are at the top of the pile,” Thompson said.

Ambulance services across the state are working with hospitals on logistics to cut down on wait times. MEMS has about two dozen people going through paramedic and EMT training schools currently, and staff are working overtime and overlapping jobs to make up for shortfalls.

Thompson himself says he jumps into ambulances on the weekends and has even helped hospitals turn rooms just to get patients moving and checked in.

“The ambulance providers across the state are doing everything we can to lean into it and be there for you when you need us,” he said.

Thompson said no one part of the state is better off than the other right now, as hospital capacities are a major concern across Arkansas.

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