SACRAMENTO, Calif. — In what's supposed to be a drive-through, multiple ambulances can be seen parked outside Sacramento area hospitals for hours at a time.
"It's turned into a parking lot," said Medic Ambulance Operations Manager Eric Paulson. "Hospitals are impacted to the point where they're using ambulances as free labor."
Paulson said he has heard of crews waiting as long as nine hours on the wall at a hospital emergency department, providing care to a patient as they await a hospital bed. On Thursday, he had been waiting on the wall at Sutter Medical Center for more than an hour.
"With my patient, on my gurney, sitting up next to a wall waiting for their charge nurse to tell us that we have a bed that is staffed with another nurse that can take our patient," Paulson said.
"In the meanwhile, patient care is suffering out in the field," said Keith Wade, Sacramento Fire Department public information officer. Wade said with so many ambulances tied up at the hospital, there are fewer units left to respond to incoming 9-1-1 calls.
Paramedics said it has been a chronic issue for years, made worse by the recent surge of COVID-19 cases sparked by the Omicron variant.
"There is basically a crisis at the Emergency Department right now," said Sutter's Chief Medical Officer Kevin Smothers. He said hospitals are seeking a solution to their staffing shortages and capacity crunch.
"There’s times where our crews are held at hospitals for hours, sometimes as long as 10 hours," said Jason Sorrick, public information officer at American Medical Response, one of the largest medical transportation companies in the country.
"Because the hospitals can’t meet the nurse to patient ratio because there’s so many patients coming in, that then they’re using our workforce as their workforce," Sorrick said.
Paulson, with Medic Ambulance, said the ambulances are being used like small emergency rooms.
"But we don't have all the training and necessary capabilities to do a lot of this stuff," Paulson said. "We can help manage the symptoms, we can try to stabilize, we want to get them to definitive care."