Shortage of EMTs leads to longer wait times for ambulances in Wake, Durham counties

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DURHAM, N.C. (WNCN) – A shortage of EMS workers in different counties across the Triangle has led to longer wait times for ambulances in Wake and Durham counties.

In Durham County, 20 of their 166 EMS positions are vacant, which means 12 percent of their positions need to be filled.

But 11 EMS recruits have not yet graduated, which means right now Durham County is down 31 EMS workers.

Mark Lockhart, chief for Durham County EMS, said this means they have five fewer ambulances available to send to emergencies.

Durham is also seeing a record number of 911 calls. In July, more than 27,000 came into Durham, which is the most the city has seen in 5 years.

“There’s a great reliability on other systems to respond in those circumstances,” Lockhart said.

Lockhart said surrounding counties such as Wake and Orange can help respond if Durham does not have an ambulance readily available.

For instance, Wake County has sent an ambulance to Durham County 72 times since May 1, according to Wake County officials.

Durham also helps Wake County, as they have sent an ambulance to Wake County 47 times since May 1.

However, Wake County is also short staffed, as currently 20 of their EMS workers are on leave.

“We are on average down about 10 units,” said Brian Brooks, public information officer for Wake County EMS.

At the same time, Brooks said they are seeing a record number of 911 calls.

In May, Brooks said they took 10,203 911 calls, and prior to then their busiest month in history was around 9,500 calls.

Brooks said they are on pace to surpass 11,000 calls this month.

He said one reason behind the surge in calls, is access to primary care is hard to get right now as many providers are booked up with appointments.

As a result, more people are calling 911 so they can get immediate care.

“People are using the emergency rooms as their primary care office because they feel like they need care now,” Brooks said.

As a result, both Wake and Durham counties said there are times when there is no ambulance available in their county or a surrounding county.

That’s when patients with low-priority calls will have to wait until an ambulance becomes available.

“Those are very infrequent occurrences,” Lockhart said. “Help is coming, but for those who are calling with a low acuity issue, help may not be coming as quickly as we would like.”

Lockhart said serious or life-threatening calls will get an ambulance immediately.

Over in Wake County, Brooks said sometimes low acuity patients are having to wait 30 to 45 minutes for an ambulance.

“I understand it’s disappointing you’re having to wait 30 minutes or 45 minutes when you’re used to seeing someone in 10 minutes, but they are doing what they can,” Brooks said.

Another thing holding up EMTs is that hospitals are nearing capacity in the Triangle, and it’s taking longer to process patients at the hospital as they must see where a bed is available.

Brooks said sometimes EMTs are at the hospital two hours waiting for these patients to be processed.
Brooks said 25 recruits are graduating from the EMS academy in Wake County, and they’re hoping this will help as the 911 call volume continues to grow.

In Durham County, 11 EMS recruits will be graduating on Sept. 3 and will begin working in the field soon.
If you would like to apply for an EMS job with Durham County or Wake County, click on the following links:

Employment | Durham County

Careers | Wake County

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