Tampa Bay paramedics wait hours in hospital bays while patients await open ER beds

Posted at 9:16 PM, Aug 06, 2021

TAMPA, Fla. — Hospitalizations due to COVID-19 have hit record-high numbers in the Tampa Bay area. Thursday topped the list with the highest amount of hospitalizations at any point during the pandemic, and then Friday rolled around and took the lead.

Of course, as hospitalizations increase, so do the number of 911 calls and ambulance transports. Tampa Bay area ambulance companies are now seeing some of the longest wait times they’ve ever seen when they arrive to drop off patients.

When an ambulance transports a patient to a hospital, their job doesn’t end until that patient gets checked in and gets into a hospital bed. During normal times, that process takes 30 minutes, now it’s taking hours.

“The wait can be anywhere from 30 minutes to 5 hours,” said Clara Reynolds, President, and CEO of Crisis Center of Tampa Bay.

Crisis Center of Tampa Bay owns and operates Transcare, one of several ambulance transport services in Hillsborough County.

Reynolds says that back on April 1st, Transcare took 175 calls for transports. Then yesterday, August 5th, they took 291.

“Not every one of those is directly related to COVID, but we do have a lot of individuals that are complaining of symptoms that could be COVID related,” said Reynolds.

The problem is, many of the other transport systems are facing the same influx, which is creating major backups at our Tampa Bay area hospitals. Patients are waiting longer for bed spaces, which ties up EMS crews in the hospital bays. That leads to more missed calls.

“There are some days, because of those wait times, that we miss more calls than we’re able to actually serve,” said Reynolds.

And it’s happening all over Tampa Bay. Dr. Andrew Wilson, Chief Medical Officer and emergency physician at Morton Plant North Bay Hospital in Pasco County say wait times can belong there too.

“My particular ER has 28 beds and a small fast track area. We may have upwards of 40 or 50 patients in that department at any time because we’re so busy. And so those patients end up in hallways, other areas, wherever we can provide care,” said Dr. Wilson.

But an important message he shares is that if you are truly dealing with an emergent situation, they will get you in!

“We still had an acute heart attack. What we call a STEMI, walk through the front door. We immediately were able to get that patient into a space that was appropriate to get care,” said Dr. Wilson.

That message is the same from all of our bay area hospitals. But they’re also urging people, if your situation is not emergent, to head somewhere else.

“Our staffing is tight, our ERs are full, and if you’re coming to the ER and you have a sprained ankle and you want to be seen, yes you might wait longer than you typically would wait,” said John Couris, President and CEO of Tampa General Hospital.

In a statement from AdventHealth, they urge patients to avoid the ER for COVID-19 testing:

“We encourage people in need of a COVID-19 test to avoid the ER unless they are having trouble breathing. This will allow clinical staff to maintain sufficient capacity for patients needing care for critical injuries and additional medical emergencies. The public can seek COVID-19 testing at the nearest AdventHealth Centra Care or AdventHealth Express Care at Walgreens location. If they are located at Hardee or Highlands County, they can seek COVID-19 testing at an AdventHealth Promptcare location.”
AdventHealth Spokesperson

BayCare also expressed their high volumes in this statement:

“This week we have reached a grim milestone: Our 14 acute care hospitals have more COVID-19 patients than any other time since the pandemic began. This has been the case in our emergency departments as well. Continuing to have such a huge patient load for COVID-19 limits our ability to provide a full complement of health care services. To help shift available resources where are needed most at this time, we have paused all elective surgeries in our Hillsborough County hospitals and paused elective surgeries in Polk and Pinellas counties that require an overnight stay. In abundance of caution, we’ve set up temporary tents outside some of our hospitals to help triage patients coming through ERs in need of urgent care. We share this information to underscore the importance of each individual practicing safety protocols. We strongly encourage those who are eligible to obtain a COVID-19 vaccine. The vaccine is not foolproof, but it is proving a very strong deterrent to developing severe complications from COVID-19, including the Delta variant.
BayCare Spokesperson

They’re pushing options like urgent care, telemedicine, and making appointments with your primary care physician. And they’re also pushing vaccination.

“Vaccines are absolutely working. Yes there are occasionally breakthroughs, and some patients still do get sick despite vaccination, however, they’re consistently less sick, less likely to end up in the ICUs,” said Dr Wilson.

And for those struggling with mental health issues, Crisis Center of Tampa Bay urges you to call their 211 system.

“For anybody that is struggling with an emotional emergency that may be utilizing the 911 system, consider calling 211. That’s right here in your community at the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay, we may be able to provide you with additional assistance and support that can keep you out of that emergency department," said Reynolds.

For information on how you can get a COVID-19 vaccination in your area, click here.