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Ambulance wait times getting longer with COVID cases rising in Houston area

The Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association president said hospital shortages are making this a pressing issue.

HOUSTON — Amid the Delta surge, ambulance wait times are putting firefighters, EMTs and paramedics in tough positions as they are waiting longer than normal to offload patients.

“Frustrated...they’re exhausted,” said Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association President Marty Lancton about how some firefighters/EMTs and paramedics feel amid longer than usual waits to offload patients at hospitals.

“If they’re sitting in the hallways waiting for the hospitals to get proper facilities, they’re not out on the streets responding to citizens 9-1-1 calls,” Lancton said.

According to data from the Texas Medical Center, the number of COVID-19 cases in the county has jumped more than 2,500 percent in the last month.

Houston Health Department Chief Medical Officer Dr. David Persse said the 500 percent increase in hospitalizations during the same period is creating an unprecedented demand that ambulances are responding to as much as doctors and nurses are.

“The problem is that we have these episodes where it becomes terribly bad. We’ve had ambulances waiting to offload for four hours or longer," Dr. Persse said.

And extended wait times extend to other parts of the county as well. EMS Cy-Fair Fire Department Assistant Chief Justin Reed said paramedics are stretched thin.

“Typically if one hospital is at capacity then we’ll give them a courtesy and we’ll move patients around them, and watching the status board right now, it’s the worst I’ve ever seen it in my career," Reed said. "Every hospital they’re all at their breaking point right now."

And while the latest COVID surge is expected to increase for now, Lancton said this is an issue that needs to be addressed as soon as possible so that firefighters/EMTs and paramedics can turn around and get back out in the field.

While calls are up, he says, transports are about the same as they were pre-pandemic in 2019. The problem, he says, is hospital shortages making this a pressing issue.

“We have auto-pedestrian incidents, we have car accidents, we have pin-ins, rescues...all of those resources are coming from the Houston Fire Department. We can’t take any more depletion," he said.