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Tampa Bay EMS critically strained; asking not to call 911 for non-emergencies

Emergency room
Posted at 6:40 PM, Aug 19, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-19 18:43:22-04

LAKELAND, Fla.  — Debbie Wilkes was released from Lakeland Regional Health Thursday.

“I waited over four hours to see a doctor,” Wilkes said.

Wilkes who is a diabetic was transported by ambulance to the emergency room earlier this week.

“I had my toes amputated and it’s a four to 10-hour wait in the E-R,” she said.

Long wait times are an issue many patients arriving at hospitals across the Bay Area are dealing with. Ambulances backed up outside of Lakeland Regional’s ER could be seen earlier this week.

“Usually, the problem is in late afternoons. Our system picks up right around noon and it’ll extend to about 8’clock and that’s when you see our system critically stretched at that time,” said Robert Weech, Polk County Fire Rescue Chief.

In an update to County Commissioners, Weech said ambulances are having to wait longer to transfer patients to hospitals due to an increase in 911 calls.

Polk County’s EMS division went from 280 calls a day to now an average of 340 calls per day. But Weech said there have been no significant delays in response time.

“There are pockets that have one or 2 minutes additional response time. There are also a couple of pockets experiencing more than that. Up to 4 minutes additional response time,” said Weech.

In Hillsborough County, they are also seeing an unprecedented request for service. Hillsborough County Fire Rescue said they are averaging about two more patient transports a day compared to last month.

“Typically, a turnaround can happen anywhere between 10 and 15 minutes on a normal day. We’re seeing ambulances now, that sometimes wait an hour, 1.5 to two hours, sometimes longer,” said Jeremy Fischler, Quality Management Chief for Hillsborough County Fire Rescue.

In Pinellas County the Director of EMS said, ambulances carrying patients are now waiting up to three hours at their hospitals.

ABC Action News reached out to surrounding counties and all said hospital bed delays are tying up ambulances. As COVID-19 continues to strain emergency response systems, fire chiefs in Polk, Pasco, Hillsborough, and Pinellas are asking you only call 911 for serious emergencies.

“Certainly, if you have an emergency, stroke, heart attack, accident, fire at your house, certainly call 911. We don’t want to deter that, but if you have other ways of getting medical care you need to exhaust those at this time,” Weech said.

That way, EMS can deal with other emergencies during this critical time.