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Turnaround times at overrun hospitals cause delays in ambulance response

“Just last week we had a patient in an area hospital waiting on our stretcher for five-and-a-half hours," said Houston Fire Chief Samuel Peña said.

HOUSTON — This latest surge in COVID-19 cases has once again caused hospitalizations at Houston-area hospitals to reach peak levels.

It’s not only causing a strain on the hospital system but also on first responders who are facing delays transferring patients to hospital waiting rooms.

Houston Fire Department Chief Samuel Peña said because every day calls to EMS like car accidents, falls or heart attacks have not gone down paramedics and patients are having to wait for space to open up.

Paramedics across Houston know time is everything during an emergency.

Chief Peña said Houston Fire has 104 ambulances staffed and running at all times that respond to about 1,000 calls a day.

“Since about June, we’ve been hitting about 1,200 calls for service per day,” Peña said. “That’s an increase of almost 20 percent.”

He said hospitals are overrun with patients at the moment.

RELATED: Ambulance wait times getting longer with COVID cases rising in Houston area

Chief Peña said time spent at the hospitals is causing a bottleneck and slowing paramedics from getting an ambulance back in service.

“Just last week we had a patient in an area hospital waiting on our stretcher for five-and-a-half hours," Chief Peña said.

Montgomery County Hospital District Chief of EMS James Campbell said they’re seeing the same trend.

“Previously we averaged about a 30-minute turnaround time,” Campbell said. “Now we’re seeing times averaging about an hour and we’ve had as long as a four hour wait for home ambulance.”

Campbell said they run between 25 and 30 ambulances a day that answer close to 200 calls.

However, that number has jumped to 267 in the last couple weeks.

“Our crews will call dispatch and ask which hospital should I go to? Who has a wait time that is less? Who is not crowded?” Campbell said.

First responders want residents to know help is on the way when they’re needed, but because of the strain in resources, an ambulance may be coming from farther away.

Both Houston Fire and the Montgomery County Hospital District say they’re also adjusting who they send out to specific calls. For example, if no one needs to be transported they’ll just send a fire truck and save the ambulance for a bigger emergency.

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