Surge in coronavirus hospitalizations taking toll on Manatee County EMS

Manatee County

MANATEE COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – Over the last several weeks, hospitals in Manatee County have experienced an increase in COVID-19 patients coming through their doors. That surge in hospitalizations is taking a toll on other emergency services throughout the county.

Manatee County EMS Chief James Crutchfield says the increase in hospitalizations has had an impact on the time it takes to offload patients or move them from ambulances to ER rooms. The benchmark offload time in Manatee County is 15 minutes or less.

“For the most part, we are able to meet that except for the last couple of months with COVID. We are continuously creeping up. We are going to 25 to 30 minutes,” said Chief Crutchfield.

Emergency Department Manager Lindsay Cuff tells 8 On Your Side the average offloading time at Blake Medical Center in Bradenton hasn’t been affected since the start of the pandemic. She credits that to constant communication.

“Probably the biggest change for us is that EMS has set up a great response with COVID-19. They notify us ahead of time if they are transporting a patient to our facility that they believe might have COVID symptoms,” said Cuff. “With EMS notifying us ahead of time when they are en route to the hospital with one of these patients, it gives us time to make sure that we have a room with a door for these COVID patients so that we don’t run into a dilemma when EMS arrives at our hospital.”

If ambulances are at hospitals waiting to be offloaded, they’re not responding to emergency 911 calls.

“Daily, we are going into what we call a ‘surge’ which just means there are less than five ambulances available to cover the entire county,” said Chief Crutchfield. “When there are less ambulances, that means response times increase and people are waiting longer for something that they perceive to be an emergency.”

Crutchfield says the Manatee County dispatch Center strategically moves ambulances around the county to help meet demand in areas with historically higher call volumes.

“There is a higher call volume in the City of Bradenton than there is out in Myakka but it is not easy to predict when someone has an emergency. So, if we move a Myakka truck into town, it takes an extremely long time to get way out east, so it can be challenging to manage a limited amount of resources,” explained the EMS Chief.

8 On Your Side asked Crutchfield how the community can help ease the strain.

“Please be respectful of yourself and everyone else, wear your mask when you are out in public, stay inside if you can, and call 911 only if it is a true medical emergency,” said Crutchfield.

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