The reason many Cleveland residents see long ambulance wait times

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CLEVELAND (WJW) – A FOX 8 I-Team investigation now has uncovered the reason why so many of you have to wait and wait for an ambulance in Cleveland.

After reviewing city staffing records, dispatch calls and talking to multiple sources, we have found several ambulances taken out of service day after day because of a lack of paramedics.

“It’s life and death and honestly, it could be you or your loved one the next time. It really could be,” said Susan Obral, sister of Patrick Colvin.

Colvin, of Cleveland, died of heart trouble in August. He waited 14 minutes for EMS. 

His sister tells us there is no way to know if he would have survived had the ambulance gotten there sooner, but she wonders if a faster response would have made a difference.

“Patrick wouldn’t want his death to be vain,” Obral said. “Maybe his death will help spur them to make sure we can change this.”

A city spokeswoman tells us that in 2016, after residents approved a tax increase aimed to improve city services, staffing levels increased for Cleveland EMS, expanding the number of ambulances in service to 25 vehicles per day and 21 vehicles per night.

However, a review of EMS records shows how many ambulances are not rolling each day and night due to staffing shortages. Often, the number of units on the streets is down by a third.

In the month of September, the I-Team found that EMS was fully staffed on only four days.

Weeks ago, we filed a public records request for more staffing reports. City hall officials have yet to respond.

The I-Team did obtain an internal memo from Karrie Howard, the director of Cleveland Public Safety, that he sent to members of city council in June.

“Regarding the staffing, we are short-staffed daily, however the city is covered around the clock and all calls for service are being met,” Howard wrote in the memo.

However, we’ve exposed cases with delays in critical emergencies.

“I needed medical help and there was none,” said Darlene Cook.

In October, Cook called 911 when her father, Ken Sellers, collapsed. She waited 17 minutes for an ambulance. He died. Dispatch notes obtained by the I-Team show at the time “no units” were available.

Cook says she doesn’t understand why it took so long for the ambulance to arrive. She is now left wondering if her father could have survived had EMS arrived sooner. She says she will never know.

“There is an issue with EMS, there is,” Cook said. “If they would have been here, maybe my father would be alive today.”

The I-Team tried several times to talk to Howard and other city administrators about the EMS issues, but they declined our requests.

Some council members say they want to get firefighters more involved in taking patients to the hospital when there is no ambulance free.

The I-Team checked. Cleveland Fire does have two rescue squads that can be used to transport patients.

One is based at a station on West 117th, while the other is at East 66 and Chester. However, multiple sources tell us the fire department squads have not been used to take patients to the hospital for years.

Meanwhile, the I-Team found another call with dispatch notes showing no units available when a mother called to report her teenage son was struggling to breathe.

It took 16 minutes to get the ambulance to the Cleveland home.

Still the city’s safety director continues to tell council the ambulance shortages are not a problem.

“We have suffered no loss of life due to a lack, due to a lack of response time,” Howard said during a council committee meeting. “You know, in an emergency situation, time seems like it’s going for a really long time.”

The families of Colvin and Sellers disagree. They now call on the city to take urgent action.

“There is an issue with ambulances. They need to do something about it. We need more ambulances. We need more help,” Cook said.

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