I-Team investigates how often ambulances are taken off Cleveland streets

CLEVELAND-- The FOX 8 I-Team is investigating how often Cleveland EMS falls short of its targets for the number of ambulances on your streets. We’ve found city hall can’t answer that question.

The city argues you are getting better service since a tax increase that included promises for improvements when you call 911 for help.

Multiple sources said Cleveland routinely takes units out of service because of short staffing. It even happened on a recent Sunday night as crowds jammed downtown for the Browns and Indians.

We’ve shown you, EMS already gets stretched at times with full staffing. All of this despite a tax increase a few years ago for more service.

For weeks, the I-Team has been pressing for an explanation of how often the city falls short on ambulances. One request came back with an answer of "no records." Then the city simply sent us piles of time sheets for paramedics expecting us to make sense of that to be able to tell you how often there’s short staffing.

On Tuesday, we went to city hall and sat down with EMS Commissioner Nicole Carlton. She said she doesn’t keep track of how often EMS falls below targets for ambulances on the streets. But she responded, since the tax increase, Cleveland EMS is getting to more calls faster.

“Our response times have gone down an average over two minutes which to us is a significant decrease in response times to medical emergencies," Carlton said. “And also for the life-threatening emergencies, we’re down below the national average.”

We wondered how much better response time could be if units don’t get shut down. The commissioner said some lower priority calls will always get held because of other emergencies. Still, we found EMS has openings for about 10 percent of its staff.

City hall said it plans to fill the jobs soon with a new training class beginning in November.

The union for EMS workers issued a statement. CARE, the Cleveland Association of Rescue Employees, said:

"Since the passage of Issue 32 (tax increase), the division of EMS has lost over 120 people. This has resulted in insufficient personnel to staff EMS operations. Remaining employees are overworked and underpaid, while being relied on to keep the division operational. Those who have left, say they left due to low wages, lack of addressing the issue of mental health, poor management and an unresolved contract - where the City owes our members over $2 million in backpay."

The city said Cleveland EMS takes in well over 100,000 calls each year.

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