Pinellas County EMS changing policy due to call volume and hospital delays

Posted at 4:32 PM, Aug 19, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-19 16:32:41-04

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Pinellas County Emergency Medical Services said it is encouraging residents to only call 911 for life-threatening emergencies as EMS systems across the Tampa Bay area continue to battle the strain of an onslaught of calls for help.

Pinellas County Director of EMS and Fire Administration, Craig Hare, addressed the abundance of calls in a letter to local hospitals. In it, Hare said, “The system is extremely busy – there were 545 patient transports yesterday with 131 Bed Delays with 77 over an over; 19 over 2 hours; and one 3-hour delay. It is not sustainable for the EMS System to absorb the delays.”

Hare continued, “EMS cannot allow all of our resources to be tied up at Hospitals without reducing the level of service decrease dramatically and increasing response times to unacceptable limits. This affects our ability to respond to Fires, Rescue incidents and life threatening (sic) emergencies.”

As a result of the high number of calls, Hare said the system would be returning to COVID-19 Fire/EMS CONDITION YELLOW and would enact a CONDITION 2 MEDICAL PLAN. Hare outlined the following policies to Pinellas hospitals thusly:

  • When EMS is experiencing a low number of Ambulances available due to Hospital Bed Delays - EMS will deploy a CONDITION 2 MEDICAL Plan during High Activity to clear Ambulances from Hospitals.
  • EMS at 15 minutes will find placement for the patient (i.e. Waiting Room – Triage Nurse, Wheelchair, ER Stretcher, or Disaster Stretcher deployed by EMS to Hospitals) for Severity Green and Yellow patients.
  • EMS will use Triage Tags to indicate the patient severity and a complete printed Patient Care Report will be left with the patient.
  • EMS will continue care for Severity Red patients until transfer of care can be completed – not to exceed 30 minutes.
  • An attempt will be made to provide a verbal report to Hospital Staff. If a verbal report cannot be made, the Paramedic will relay via radio to the Hospital a standard “radio report” indicating that EMS is responding to the next 911 patient.
  • If the Hospital does not answer the radio, a report will be given on the radio channel which is recorded by Pinellas County 911.
  • The Ambulance or Rescue Unit will expedite their “return to service” to respond to the next mission.
  • Leaving a patient at a Hospital is not patient abandonment per EMTALA.
  • The Hospital components of the CONDITION 2 MEDICAL Plan will extend during CONDITION 3 MEDICAL if Rescue Units are necessary for transport.

Hare said while the county will continue “our support and partnerships with the Hospitals, Hospital Administrators and staff,” they would continue to make sure their primary mission, “to respond to 911 Fire Rescue and EMS incidents,” is met.

Pinellas County said while the call volume remains high, it is “prepared to handle it.”