Some Alabamians experiencing delay in ambulance response times

Published: Feb. 22, 2023 at 7:23 PM CST
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MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - It’s an issue facing communities across Alabama: A delay in ambulance response times.

The problem could mean the difference between life and death in the state’s more rural counties.

“We are facing a crisis here in our county,” said Macon County Emergency Management Agency Director Frank Lee. “I am concerned about the welfare of the citizens in Macon County.”

The nearest hospital to Macon County is about 25 minutes away. In an emergency, residents rely on ambulances for timely care, but officials say they aren’t arriving fast enough.

“It’s between 10 and 12 minutes when it’s under normal circumstances. Now, it can be even exceeding an hour,” Lee said.

It’s a problem happening across the state. Officials say the problem can mainly be attributed to staffing shortages and crowded hospital emergency rooms.

Haynes Ambulance serves Macon County and much of Central Alabama. Chief Operating Officer Kirk Barrett says the most significant issue they are facing is major delays in dropping off patients at hospital emergency rooms.

“A lot of times, we’ll have to wait two hours or more to drop patients off at the area hospitals because they are just simply full,” Barrett said. “That causes a backlog of the ambulances. We’ll have 10 or 15 ambulances waiting to drop patients off at a time.”

Last month alone, Barret said they lost 1,117 hours waiting to drop off patients at area hospitals. That was time that could have been spent responding to emergency calls.

There is also a nationwide staffing shortage of EMS workers and paramedics. A shortage that can be felt here at home.

“It started with COVID. When COVID hit, a lot of the EMS workers left the field, so it’s just kind of gotten worse since then,” Barrett said.

Barrett said there is also no public paramedic school in the river region anymore. Trenholm State Community College used to offer a paramedic program in Montgomery, but he said they do not anymore. The next closest program is at Southern Union State Community College in Opelika.

To fill the void, Barrett said they have opened an in-house EMS academy to train people in Wetumpka. However, certifying a paramedic still takes two years, so the problem won’t be solved overnight.

“We need more education; we need more recruitment of EMS personnel to come into the field,” Barrett said.

“We are going to need legislation here in the state of Alabama that will allow ambulance providers a quick in-and-out at the hospital, and we are going to have to do a better job not calling an ambulance when it is totally not necessary,” Lee said.

Barrett acknowledged that area hospitals are doing everything they can. He said they, too, are understaffed and overwhelmed.

Macon County EMA Director Frank Lee said they would continue to life flight patients when necessary. Financially that is not ideal, but he says you can not put a price on saving a life.

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