Man’s death sparks questions about Cleveland EMS response times: I-Team

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CLEVELAND (WJW) – The FOX 8 I-Team has learned about a delay getting a Cleveland ambulance to a medical emergency and a man who died at the hospital.

Patrick Colvin died Sunday, so we started investigating. What we uncovered puts a new spotlight on a problem we’ve exposed for months affecting your safety.

The I-Team confirmed it took 14 minutes to get an EMS unit to this call. That response time is about twice as long as the city’s target for the most critical calls.

The call came in just before dawn from a home off West 117th near Halloran Park.

The I-Team found, at the time of the delay, two ambulances nearby had been taken out of service due to short staffing.

We broke the news to Susan Obral, the sister of the man who died.

“I am just devastated and I’m heartbroken all over again. I wish they could explain to me why, why it took so long,” she said.

Cleveland Councilman Brian Mooney reacted to the EMS response by saying, “That’s unacceptable.”

The I-Team has reported on Cleveland EMS delays and ambulances taken out of service due to short staffing.

Mooney has been doing his own research into the poor condition of many city EMS units, including many with well over 300,000 miles on them.

Now, did this contribute to a man’s death?

“You can’t tell me that response time doesn’t correlate to saving lives because it does. Two-fold. It’s equipment and response time,” Councilman Mooney said.

To show you how close an ambulance could have been to this call, the I-Team took a walk. We pulled out our stopwatch and walked to the nearest fire station.

We found it around the block from that call, less than a five-minute walk away.

However, when that call came in, the ambulance around the corner was not in service. It was shut down due to short staffing.

No one answered the door when we stopped at EMS headquarters.

City hall later released a statement by e-mail, stating:

“Due to the nature of the call, as is the policy, both an ambulance and a first responder from Cleveland Fire were dispatched to the incident. The Fire Unit arrived on scene at 0511 a.m. and rendered appropriate care until the ambulance arrived at 0520 a.m.  The patient was transported to Metro in critical condition. The most appropriate ambulance was dispatched to the call.”

While the statement referred to the “most appropriate” ambulance, city hall did not address follow-up questions or provide anyone to answer questions on camera.

Recently, Safety Director Karrie Howard said lives are not in danger because of short-staffing in EMS.

“There’s no lack of services resulting in lives being placed in jeopardy. The entire city is covered,” he said.

But, the EMS union issued a statement, calling what happened in this case “tragic.”

The union said the city administration is not addressing the EMS shortages. The statement also said, “Mayor Jackson and his administration are doing quite literally nothing.”

It continued, “The policies and practices of the Jackson Administration have created a ‘revolving door’ within the division of EMS, leading to staffing shortages, brownouts and high employee turnover.”

Colvin had made a difference in his neighborhood. He served as president of the Board of Directors for the Westtown Community Development Corporation.

“I want to know more. Why? Why did they have such delays? This is life and death,” his sister said.

The Cuyahoga County Medical Examiner is investigating the cause of death.

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