Local first responders sound alarms as patient transfer times skyrocket from minutes to hours

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SUMMIT COUNTY, Ohio (WJW) – Firefighters and EMS workers are sounding the alarm about a growing “crisis” involving hospital emergency rooms across Summit County.

“It’s been kind of developing over time, but it’s really gotten bad,” said Tim Morgan, Twinsburg Fire Chief and acting President of the Summit County Fire Chiefs Association.

According to Chief Morgan, ideally, patient transfer times from ambulance to emergency room take under ten minutes, but right now those transfer times are skyrocketing.

“We’ve had ambulances waiting in excess of an hour, and a handful of cases over two hours just to transfer the patient to the hospital staff so the ambulance can get back on the road, back to their communities,” said Morgan.

That’s leading to slower response times for other emergencies, particularly in smaller communities.

Morgan says the primary factor they see contributing to the emergency room bottleneck is hospital staffing. He says there are several reasons for the shortage, all directly linked to the pandemic.

According to Morgan, some were laid-off when elective procedures were suspended last year, others quit to stay home with their children and some decided to retire early.

“The hospitals are not full, their staffed beds are full. That means there are wards or wings in the hospital that are empty. They don’t have the staff to take care of people in beds if they were there,” said Morgan.

Also during the pandemic, as people were forced or chose to stay home, they began calling 911 more frequently and still do.

“It’s a ripple effect,” said Morgan.

It’s one he thinks could get worse with the new vaccine mandates, which hundreds of hospital workers in Akron alone have been protesting.

“Even quite honestly, within the fire departments, if vaccinations are mandated, people may leave,” said Morgan.

FOX 8 reached out to the Summit County Executive’s Office. Director of Communications Greta Johnson says they are taking the situation very seriously.

“The County Executive’s Office was recently made aware of concerns regarding EMS wait times. Our office had conversations with hospital administrators and had a plan to sit down with fire personnel and hospitals to have meaningful discussions to find solutions. While we understand that fire personnel are frustrated, we also know that our hospitals are doing their very best to provide care for all individuals who come through their doors,” said Johnson.

Chief Morgan says he and the other chiefs are hopeful and look forward to meeting with hospital administrators and county leaders, but remain concerned things could get worse before they get better.

“I don’t know that there’s an easy answer. Ultimately it takes people,” said Morgan, “Even if they hire tomorrow, there’s training time, orientation time, certification time, all those things stand in the way, but we have to do something.”

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