Ambulance wait times increase among diversion as COVID-19 cases spike across CSRA


AUGUSTA, Ga. (WJBF) – When you need emergency care, you depend on EMS and an ambulance to get you to the hospital…and quickly. But because COVID cases are spiking again, there are less people who can see you, which means you could be waiting in the back of an ambulance for hours.

“We have not gotten to a place that we are seeing a hospital say, ‘No no no.’ What we are seeing is lists that come out that says this hospital is on diversion or this unit is on diversion,” Michael Meyers of Gold Cross said.

Hospital diversion, also called ambulance diversion, is when ambulances are turned away from one hospital’s emergency room and sent to another. It happens when the patient volume in the ER is too high to handle.

AU Medical Center, Doctors Hospital and University Hospital are all on diversion at this time.

But everyone will be seen, it’s a matter of when.

“We are going to answer every call,” Meyers said. “We will just have to make sure that the critical things are being taken care of, making sure that we’re taking care of those patients that are most vulnerable in their state of need.”

Patients have choice of care, meaning the ambulance must take them to the hospital of their choice, but the severity of their condition determines the patient’s wait time.

“People think just because you go by emergency vehicle you run to the top of the list. That’s not the case. You will wait the appropriate time based on how severe your condition is,” Meyers said.

And you must wait in the ambulance until it’s your turn to be seen. If your wait time is 12 hours, the paramedics, EMTs, and the ambulance will also be tied up for 12 hours.

“People think they’re just sitting there empty, no one wants to run a call? No,” Meyers said. “They’re genuinely sitting there taking care of a patient in the back who cannot go inside the emergency room at this time because there’s no space.”

Meyers says now more than ever, it’s important to ask yourself if your condition warrants a 911 call.

“Can I drive myself to the ER right now? Or can I drive myself to a Prompt Care? Can I use a Prompt Care instead of going to an ER?” Meyers said.

But regardless, he says EMS and hospitals are working together to make sure everyone gets the care they need.

“We are going to handle those calls. There is no one in this community that will be left behind,” Meyers said. “We will do everything to make sure we take care of every single person.”

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