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EMS and hospitals are under pressure—what does it mean for patients?

Several EMS crews and hospitals report they have seen an influx of calls and patients as they scramble to find more beds and staffing.

PENNSYLVANIA, USA — First responders are feeling pressure as many report that a rise in patients is pushing EMS and hospital systems to the edge amidst staffing shortages, hospital diverts, and increased calls to 911.

"With COVID and the impact of that and what we're seeing recently we're just at the point where we're probably close to an EMS system collapse within the south central Pennsylvania region. But we hear that that's happening across the commonwealth and I mean things are so stressed across the nation," said Megan Ruby of Emergency Health Services Federation, Inc. 

Ruby said Emergency Health Services Federation data shows EMS is spending more time at the hospital waiting to transfer care of their patient to the emergency department staff resulting in less time being available for their community. It noted EMS transported nearly 13,000 patients in October 2021, an increase from 2019 and 2020 when that averaged around 11,300. 

Ruby noted many of the issues are rooted in staffing in both EMS units and hospitals. Other first responders also noted they could use more funding and more hospital beds to help ease the problem. 

Emergency Health Services claims in the week of October 25-31:

  • 69% of the patients transported to a hospital waited with EMS greater than 20 minutes and up to 3 hours for the emergency department to accept care of that patients. This was just over 2,000 patients.
  • 45% of the patients transported to a hospital waited with EMS greater than 30 minutes and up to 3 hours for the emergency department to accept care of that patients. This was just approximately 1,300 patients.
  • 8% of the patients transported to a hospital waited with EMS between 1 hour and 3 hours for the emergency department to accept care of that patients. This was just under 250 patients.

For the month of October, the percentages are comparable to the last week reviewed:

  • 70% of the patients transported to a hospital waited with EMS greater than 20 minutes and up to 3 hours for the emergency department to accept care of that patients. This was just over 9,000 patients.
  • 45% of the patients transported to a hospital waited with EMS greater than 30 minutes and up to 3 hours for the emergency department to accept care of that patients. This was just approximately 5,900 patients.
  • 8% of the patients transported to a hospital waited with EMS between 1 hour and 3 hours for the emergency department to accept care of that patients. This was just over 1,000 patients.

Listen to Megan Ruby of Emergency Health Services Federation, Inc: 

Listen to Craig Skurcenski, VP of UPMC Emergency Services

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