Orange County ambulance wait times getting longer amid COVID surge

SANTA ANA, Calif. (KABC) -- Amid an increase in COVID-19 hospitalizations, the Orange County Health Care Agency warned that ambulances are waiting longer than normal to offload patients at a rate not seen since the winter surge.

Dr. Carl Schultz, the county's medical director for emergency services, wrote in a memo dated Wednesday that during a 24-hour period, 90% of patient drop-off times were taking 44 minutes on average, with "16 hospitals exceeding the 30-minute standard and five hospitals exceeding 60 minutes."

He added that a dozen hospitals "requested ambulance diversion for a total of 112 diversion hours," referring to the practice of sending ambulances to another hospital when one hospital is too backed up.

"This is not sustainable. We have not witnessed increases in ambulance related numbers of this magnitude since the worst days of the second surge in December of 2020 and January of 2021," Schultz wrote.

Schultz also said the numbers "do not just represent an isolated episode," but is part of a general trend over weeks that aligns with an increase in COVID-19 patients hospitalized.

"Should this situation persist, it potentially puts the health and safety of those seeking ambulance transport to Emergency Receiving Center hospitals at risk."

Schultz asked hospital executives to work together on reducing the patient drop-off times and diverting of ambulances. If the issues continue, he said he will have to request an order of some type from the county public health officer. He said taking no action "is not an option."

"While the request at this point is for voluntary intervention, should these times persist at their current level or get worse, I will consider additional directives, including eliminating ambulance diversion and requesting action by the Orange County Public Health Officer," the memo said.

The memo can be viewed here.

Orange County on Friday reported 454 people currently hospitalized with COVID-19, a number not seen since late February.

Between July 28 and Aug. 5, the county saw an increase in the seven-day average case rate from 10.2 to 15.7 per 100,000 people, with the average number of daily COVID-19 cases rising from 328 to 507, OCHCA said in a press release.

City News Service contributed to this report.

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