How bad is LA County's hospital crisis? Paramedic gives frontline view of desperate situation

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- Tanya Crabbe has been with the Los Angeles Fire Department for 12 years and a paramedic for four.

Crabbe says the job has its challenges, but our current COVID-19 surge has her hanging on by a thread.

"It's a tremendous amount of pressure. I only have so many resources with my knowledge and experiences and certifications and my equipment, but if the hospital is unavailable, I just don't have the resources that that patient may need," said Crabbe.

"They need a doctor, a hospital bed to be taken care and how do you explain that to the patient, they don't understand that. How do you explain that to the patient's family... I only have so much I can do for you at this moment."

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First responders are pleading with the public not to call 911 unless it's an emergency.



A new directive to L.A. County paramedics has advised crews to cut back on their use of oxygen and refrain from transporting patients who have little chance of survival. If a patient is in cardiac arrest, ambulance crews should not bring that patient to a hospital if their heart stops beating. That goes for severe trauma patients, car accidents, shootings and stabbing victims who can't be resuscitated at the scene.

Why is this the case?

Paramedics like Crabbe and her partner Jessica Jackson have found themselves waiting in hospital parking structures with patients for hours.

"If my patient is sitting on my gurney and we have to wait for eight hours with that patient, that hinders us from being out here in the field trying to help someone," said Crabbe.

The public is also being urged to only call 911 if it's a true emergency that requires hospital transport. Crabbe says not every COVID-19 patient needs to go to the hospital.

RELATED: Ambulance service, 911 response cut down in LA during pandemic
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It's a health care nightmare right now in LA County. With resources so scarce, hospitals have to focus on patients who have the highest chance of survival.



"If you're having the flu, call your doctor. Talk to your primary care doctor... The emergency room is not the place to get COVID-19 testing," said Crabbe.

Rob Lawrence, the executive director of the California Ambulance Association, says the new directives are needed, but don't change things dramatically.

"Treatment in the back of a moving vehicle is sometimes challenging and could make the patient less viable when they arrive so the protocol to treat in place, on scene to get a result is actually a tactical procedure already carried out in the rest of the country," said Lawrence.

Sydney Reynolds, an EMT with CARE Ambulance, says she's waited up to seven hours in her ambulance with a patient during the recent surge.

"We're trying not to transport people that are stable," Reynolds added. "If they can treat it at home we are making them treat it at home. A lot of our call volume has increased from panic. From pure panic."

WATCH | LA medical director explains exactly how taxed LA's healthcare system is right now
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"I've been in the EMS business for about 35 years, and I don't use hyperbole, but we are definitely in uncharted territory right now." Watch the full interview with Dr. Marc Eckstein where he breaks down the current dire situation LA's healthcare system is facing.

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