State healthcare leaders address increasing ambulance response times across Alabama

WAFF 48's Claudia Peppenhorst reporting
Published: Mar. 20, 2023 at 9:11 PM CDT
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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WAFF) - Patients across the state are experiencing increased ambulance response times. With beds full and staffing low, hospitals across the state are struggling to keep up with patients showing up to the emergency room.

Ambulances are forced to wait outside of hospitals until someone is available to treat their patient.

“We are seeing a lot of increased response times throughout the state,” said Jamie Gray, State EMS Director. “Patients that are transported to the emergency department by EMS are often placed against the wall until an appropriate place becomes available for them to be transferred to or care transferred over to the hospital.”

President of the Alabama Hospital Association, Don Williamson said there are several contributing factors to this issue, but the main one is the ongoing healthcare staffing shortage. He said on hospital floors, it takes longer to move patients from the emergency room to a real room upstairs, causing ambulances to simply sit outside and wait.

“It ties up an ambulance for a longer period of time than would have happened before COVID,” Williamson said. “It can create delays that could theoretically impact care for other patients who need those emergency medical services.”

Both Gray and Williamson point to the same solution - stepping up recruitment and retention efforts for healthcare workers.

Don Webster with Huntsville Emergency Medical Services said he understands that struggle.

“The hospitals are doing everything they can,” Webster said. “They don’t want those ambulances up there having to wait. They don’t want those patients to wait.”

All three tell WAFF 48 that there is another reason for increased response times: people going to the emergency room when it’s not a true emergency. They want people to be reminded to only use emergency medical services when they need immediate care.

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