I-TEAM: Cleveland woman calls 911 during medical emergency, dispatch says there’s no ambulance to send

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CLEVELAND -- A Cleveland woman was told the city did not have an ambulance to send to her medical emergency in the middle of the night, prompting the FOX 8 I-TEAM to ask questions about ambulances taken out of service due to short staffing.

Last weekend, Beverly Olds-Blockum suddenly found herself suffering from severe stomach pains. Her husband called 911.

However a recording revealed that the dispatcher told her, "Hold on. Due to the current call volume, we are unable to dispatch a unit at this time."

Beverly’s husband ended up taking her to the hospital, and now they've turned to the I-TEAM to learn more about the ambulance delay.

"It makes you angry. You pay taxes and you expect for these services to be provided," said Beverly.

The city recently raised taxes promising to put more ambulances on the streets. And although EMS says the number of ambulances rolling every day is much higher than it was just a few years ago, the I-TEAM keeps uncovering more instances of 911 calls in which no EMS crew was available to assist.

"On that night, we were fully staffed with our regular number of ambulances," EMS Commissioner Nicole Carlton said regarding the night of the latest call with a delay.  Adding that at the time the call came in, EMS happened to be handling a flurry of more serious calls.

This week, the I-TEAM revealed a letter sent to city leaders by a Cleveland paramedic as she resigned. She said the city EMS has too few paramedics handling too many calls and is often even shutting down some city ambulances because of short staffing. Privately, multiple EMS sources say that happens a lot.

We asked the Commissioner how often that happens and she responded, "I don't have those specific numbers."

Still, we pressed the question of how often EMS falls below its target for ambulance staffing.

"It’s not often. It’s not every day, no," Carlton said, adding, "We do attempt to fill those vacancies at all times. So the tax increase has reduced response times for the critical emergencies.”

The Commissioner said more paramedics are getting hired to fill gaps and overall the ambulance service is improving.

But for Beverly Olds-Blockum and her husband, the system needs more.

"I never thought you call EMS, and they tell you no," Beverly explained.  She said she ended up getting treated at the hospital, and she’s now working through follow-up doctor’s appointments.

Meantime, the I-TEAM has filed for records showing exactly how often the city falls below regular staffing for ambulances.

Continuing coverage, here.

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