I-Team investigation sparks hearing about ambulances not running in Cleveland

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CLEVELAND (WJW) — The FOX 8 I-Team has sparked new questions about problems we’ve exposed in Cleveland when you call for an ambulance.

Wednesday, our reporting led, in part, to a Cleveland City Council hearing on EMS operations.

The I-Team has exposed Cleveland ambulances taken out of service sometimes day after day due to short-staffing.

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In fact, last week, people called 911 for a medical emergency in a back yard in the Collinwood neighborhood, and the I-Team found, on that day, the closest ambulance unit had been shut down.

We broke that news to Joe Szabo, a man there at the scene. He reacted by saying, “Ridiculous. That ambulance was right around the corner and there was nobody to staff it?”

At the hearing, Councilman Mike Polensek spoke out to the Safety Director and EMS Commissioner about the ambulances taken out of service.

He said, “So you know, for me to find out about it after the fact does not make me a happy camper.”

Council Safety Committee Chairman Blaine Griffin said, “I don’t like this committee to review individual cases, but we do have every right to oversee the system.”

City safety officials said overall response times have improved. Cleveland EMS has plans in the works to hire and train more ambulance crews. And, when neighborhood ambulances are taken out of service, the administration makes sure those areas are still covered.

And the Safety Director blames part of the problems facing EMS on COVID-19.

“We have been in the midst of a pandemic, unprecedented activity and need for our emergency medical response,” Karrie Howard said,  

Yet, for years the I Team has been digging up records putting a spotlight on ambulances getting shut down. Long before COVID-19.

At that hearing, the city put up a graphic saying EMS is at full-staffing 98 percent of the time. But, we keep finding EMS falling short.

Even months ago, a Cleveland police officer got shot and wounded. That night, the three closest ambulance units were out of service due to short-staffing.

The city safety officials tried to reassure Council, EMS has everyone covered. Still, Joe Szabo isn’t totally convinced.

“People rely on EMS to save their life,” Szabo said. “The vital staffing they need out there to save people’s life.”

No one calling for an ambulance wants the closest unit to be out of service.

Meantime, before the hearing, some council members predicted they would also discuss an I-Team report that revealed an ambulance was recently sent to the wrong home for a medical emergency with a baby. That baby died days later.

But, that topic did not come up at the hearing. The incident is still under investigation.

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