ORANGE, Calif. (KABC) -- The domino effect of a surge in COVID-19 patients is going strong in Orange County, and it's affecting all angles of the emergency medical services system, officials say.
"It's still overwhelming the system right now," Dr. Jim Keany, Emergency Department co-director at Providence Mission Hospital, told ABC7. "Our hospital is absolutely full. We've expanded into every possible area of the hospital to treat patients just like we did with delta."
The facility is looking for help from traveling nurses and the National Guard, Keany said, because each nurse can only take on so many patients, But that's just the start of the backup.
"Ambulances are required to sign their patient out to licensed personnel, to a nurse, and so if there's no nurse to take the sign out they have to stay with their patient," Dr. Keany said.
Half a dozen ambulances were seen waiting to offload their patients on Thursday. Fire crews were waiting for their paramedics, all unavailable to answer the next call.
According to OC Emergency Medical Services, 90% of patient offload times, that's the time it takes to drop off a patient at the hospital, are at about 40 minutes. That's nearly double the norm.
That's also the case when you look at the time to get an ambulance on scene, now at 10 to 15 minutes.
The South Orange County area is seeing the longest dispatch times. Response time is critical, especially when a person is not breathing.
"If the ambulance can't get there to them within minutes they won't survive," Keany added.
He said the public can help free up first responders for emergencies by doing everything possible to prevent contracting COVID-19.
Keany said some people think if they arrive to the ER in an ambulance they will be treated first. He said that is not correct, noting that all patients are triaged upon arrival.