Paramedic shortage, 911 call surge, and packed hospitals lead to Orange County delays in ambulance responses

Orange County News

HILLSBOROUGH, N.C. (WNCN) — From a shortage of paramedics to a surge in 911 calls, Orange County emergency officials say those issues have led to delay in ambulance response times.

Right now in Orange County, emergency officials said they have five paramedic openings and four EMT (Emergency Medical Technician) vacancies — which is 12 percent of their EMS positions that are vacant.

This means they have fewer people available to respond to emergencies.

At the same time, officials said their 911 calls have increased 27 percent since 2018.

“One of the things we’re experiencing right now is the perfect storm,” said Kirby Saunders, emergency services director for Orange County.

He said there are times when people call 911 and Orange County does not have an ambulance available to send.

While they can call neighboring counties for help, those counties are facing the same challenges and sometimes they do not always have an ambulance to spare.

When that happens, Orange County must decide which patients can wait until an ambulance becomes available.

“We will triage those calls,” Saunders said. “Certainly, if there are life-threatening emergencies, we will get resources to those life-threatening emergencies. The low acuity calls will be placed in the queue, and they’ll get an ambulance when one becomes available.”

Since July 1, Orange County officials said for 53 calls, which is 2 percent of their 911 calls, it took more than 10 minutes for them to find an ambulance to send to a patient.

Saunders said the longest a patient has had to wait for an ambulance to respond to a life-threatening emergency has been 15 minutes.

He said the longest a patient has had to wait for a non-life-threatening matter was an hour and 50 minutes. But Saunders said that was a call where the person called for medical advice and did not wish to be taken to a hospital.

“We feel confident saying that this is not putting an increased risk on our community,” Saunders said.

But another challenge paramedics and EMTs are facing right now, is once they take a patient to the hospital, it is taking longer to drop them off at an emergency room because of an influx of patients.

One day last week, hospital officials at UNC REX Hospital said they had 70 to 80 patients waiting to be processed at one time in their ER.

“If you have every room full and if you have patients waiting in the hallways, there’s nowhere to put that stretcher — that’s how tight we might be on space,” said Dr. Linda Butler, chief medical officer for UNC REX Hospital.

In some instances, EMS workers are having to wait one to two hours with the patients before they are processed, which delays them from responding to other 911 calls.

Saunders said they have five new paramedics who are expected to start in September, and they are hoping that will bring some relief.

If you would like to apply for a position with Orange County, click on this link.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Trending Stories

Click here for full list of trending stories