SACRAMENTO, Calif. (KRON) – State lawmakers are trying to address major ambulance delays caused by crowded emergency rooms across California.
Officials say the pandemic is making it worse. Lawmakers held an oversight hearing on Wednesday to come up with solutions.
Emergency management and health care leaders said this is a problem that has been plaguing emergency response for decades but has been exacerbated by COVID-19.
While the leader of the Assembly Emergency Management Committee didn’t want to see finger-pointing, that’s what ended up happening in this hearing.
“We find ourselves at a crisis point,” Dr. Clayton Kazan, the President of California Chapter National Assn. EMS Physicians, said.
Medical emergency leaders are urging for changes to address ambulance hold-ups across California.
In the hearing, emergency medical service leaders and ambulance workers pointed to busy, understaffed hospitals and crowded emergency rooms as the primary reason for delays in patient offloads.
Some said hospitals can halt an ambulance’s ability to respond to a call for hours leading to devastating impacts.
“There has undoubtedly been harm to patients because of these delays and there seems to be no end in sight,” Brian Henricksen, the American Medical Response Regional Director, said.
Other EMS officials said patient transfers should take no more than 20 minutes, Sacramento Fire Assistant Chief Eric Saylors said EMS workers in the area waited at hospitals or were “on the wall” for more than two hours 700 times in 2021.
He says hospitals should hire their own paramedics and face fines for holding up ambulances for longer than 20 minutes.
“That may be the only thing that gets them to change their behavior,” Saylors said.
Emergency doctors and nurses say slow patient transfers and clogged emergency rooms stem from several issues, including staffing shortages, a lack of resources, and an increase in patients with non-urgent issues but who lack access to healthcare in their own communities.
“Some of the reasons include, behavioral health care, homelessness support, substance abuse, and COVID-19 for testing and vaccines,” Dr. Lori Morgan, the President and CEO of Huntington Memorial Hospital, said.
The committee’s vice-chair says state lawmakers should reevaluate state regulations impacting emergency medical services.
“Look and see if they’re truly regulations that are protecting the public or are regulations that look like they are but are creating problems in the long run,” Assm. Kelly Seyarto, R-Murrieta, said.
Some hospital officials said they need more access to data which the committee chair questioned.
“The data is quite clear there is a problem. If nobody wants to move at these committees, these departments with the data. It’s going to be our turn as lawmakers to come up with solutions that folks may not like,” Assm. Freddie Rodriguez, D-San Diego, said.
No specific action was taken by the committee today but legislation could be crafted using the information gathered in this hearing.