CLEVELAND (WJW)– The FOX 8 I-Team uncovered more people in Cleveland with emergencies left waiting a long time for an ambulance.
We’ve exposed city ambulance delays for years and now, we’ve found more in recent days with the number of COVID-19 cases soaring.
“I need an ambulance for my 15-year-old son. He is saying he can barely breathe,” one mother told dispatch on a 911 call.
She said her son is a cancer survivor struggling to breathe. She called early one evening, yet Cleveland EMS had no ambulance available. That mom and her son waited 27 minutes for paramedics.
“Ok, you are sending somebody? You sending somebody now?” the mother said.
Days later, a woman in Cleveland called 911 as she, herself, had trouble breathing. Again, EMS had no units available. This caller waited 47 minutes for an ambulance.
Both of those cases happened this month. But, the I-Team has exposed the problem for years: delays getting help to people even in critical emergencies. Mostly tied to a chronic shortage of paramedics to answer calls.
Now, the system is strained even more with the latest spike in COVID cases.
Earlier this week, the I-Team revealed nearly two dozen Cleveland EMS workers off the job after they tested positive.
We’ve shown you a man in Cleveland died waiting for an ambulance and another died after getting to the hospital following a long wait. Both families now wonder if a faster EMS response would have made a difference in saving the lives of their loved ones.
Days ago, the head of Cleveland EMS broke her silence. City hall had avoided answering questions for a long time. Yet ,we heard no promise of big changes anytime soon.
“What can be done right now to limit the delays for people who are in need of an ambulance?” we asked.
“Obviously, we call prioritize,” EMS Commissioner Nicole Carlton said.
Carlton said EMS sends help to the most serious calls first, keeps trying to hire more paramedics, and tries to keep ambulances spread around when units are shut down. Yet, we’ve still seen response times of 14, 16, and 17 minutes in life and death emergencies
“There may be times when people wait,” Carlton said.
We’ve also revealed an astonishing number of minor calls to EMS tying up ambulances. However, the city still sends an ambulance to virtually every call. We’ve revealed people calling EMS because they can’t sleep, or their shoes are too tight.
EMS said those low priority callers have to wait the longest for an ambulance. But, we wondered about them tying up paramedics even as other more serious calls keeping coming in to dispatch.
Nonetheless, the EMS commissioner told us she has no plans to change the policy of sending units to those calls.
At the same time, this week, Cleveland City Council President Blaine Griffin made an appeal to people to hold off on calling EMS for minor problems in light of the strain on the system because of short staffing and COVID calls.
What’s it like to be waiting for help in an emergency? That mother who had to wait 27 minutes as her son struggled to breathe told dispatch,
“I’m in a panic too a little bit.”