By Amy Taxin The Associated Press
Emergency health workers in California Wednesday blasted hours-long waits to transfer patients from ambulances to hospital emergency rooms in what they said were chronic delays worsened by the nearly two-year coronavirus pandemic.
During a legislative hearing, first responders said taking more than the anticipated 20 minutes to receive a patient at a hospital emergency room isn’t good for the patient and impedes their ability to head out on new emergency calls. Often, they said, they wind up waiting hours at hospitals because no one is available to receive new patients — a problem that doctors and a hospital administrator said stems from delays in lab work, X-rays and insurance authorizations.
Dr. Clayton Kazan, medical director at the Los Angeles County Fire Department, said hospital challenges shouldn’t paralyze the 911 system intended for the most critical emergencies. He said the system isn’t sustainable and is even more strained under the pandemic. Hospitals should be held accountable for stalling, and not all patients should be sent to hospitals for triage, he said.
“We’re in a disaster. It’s been going on for two years. It’s a slow rolling disaster,” Kazan said during the hearing of the Assembly Committee on Emergency Management in Sacramento. “It’s the equivalent of a plane crash every couple of days in my county alone, but every day we still have critical patients waiting for an ambulance at the scene of their emergency.”
While delays have long plagued the relationship between ambulances and hospitals in California, the problem has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. California is seeing a rise in hospitalizations following a spike in omicron variant infections that began late last month. More than 15,000 people were hospitalized with the virus on Wednesday — an increase of 89 percent from two weeks ago.
There have been some signs that infections could be slowing in the state of nearly 40 million people, such as sewage testing in Northern California that showed less prevalence of the virus. But health officials have said hospitalizations won’t likely peak until the end of the month, and hospitals are bracing for even more strain as their own workers have also been sidelined by coronavirus infections.