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Ambulances, Emergency Rooms Pushed To Capacity

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Paramedics wearing facemasks work behind an ambulance at the Garfield Medical Center in Monterey Park on March 19, 2020. (Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images)
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As calls from COVID-19 patients flood L.A. County’s medical system, the area’s ambulances and emergency rooms are being stretched to capacity.

Some ambulance drivers report waiting for up to six hours to unload patients at hospitals, and their standard response time to 9-1-1 calls has grown from nine to 12 minutes.

To address the problem, emergency medical dispatchers are sending drivers to hospitals with shorter wait times, and some medical centers have hired extra staff to monitor patients so ambulances can get back in the field.

But, says Cathy Chidester, the director of L.A. County’s Emergency Medical Services Agency, it still might not be enough.

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“Every single hospital is stressed,” she said.

Chidester said the agency is considering other ways to mitigate the overload. Some hospitals have erected triage tents to create more space, and a decision was recently made to direct patients under the age of 17 to pediatric medical centers.

But as coronavirus cases continue to rise, Chidester is concerned about wait times getting longer and hospital availability getting smaller.

“They [might] have less ambulances, or maybe a little bit less people waiting in their lobby,” she said, “but they’ve all incorporated their surge strategies.”