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LA Ambulance Response Times Improving, Says EMS Director

A red ambulance is seen backed into a hospital loading area.
Wait times for an ambulance in L.A. are improving.
(Zach Behrens/LAist)
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As demand for medical care has climbed during the omicron surge, the wait for an ambulance in Los Angeles County has been longer than usual.

But response times have recently improved, according to Cathy Chidester, director of the L.A. County Emergency Medical Services Agency.

“We have gotten some additional ambulances and ambulance staff from the state,” she said. ”They call them ‘ambulance strike teams.’ We were able to get a strike team to help with the offloading of patients and ambulance response in our different areas of the county that had been significantly burdened.”

The extra staff and ambulances have helped to bring wait times down from 20 minutes to about 15 minutes, she said. In medical emergencies, every minute counts.

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“Those are good things right now, but we're still not out of this crisis mode that we're in,” Chidester said.

She noted that 75% of L.A. hospitals are so full they're in “diversion” mode — meaning they aren't accepting ambulance traffic or transfers — and then patients end up traveling farther for care.

“We don't let them drive for more than 30 minutes, and so they are having to drive a little bit more out of the way,” Chidester said. “It's all a balance — is it better to drive a little bit further or is it better to go to that hospital that’s closer but have to wait longer?”

Meanwhile, COVID-19 cases among health care workers are increasing, leading to staffing shortages across the system. County health officials report a 30% increase in health care worker cases in the first half of the month.

There are more than 4,700 patients with the virus in L.A. County hospitals, though state models predict the number of COVID-19 patients won’t peak until early February.

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Corrected January 20, 2022 at 6:00 PM PST
An earlier version of this story incorrectly spelled Chidester's last name. LAist regrets the error.
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