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Hospital backups affect EMS, incoming patients

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Doug Davis told his story at the January 25, 2022 Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) meeting. During Citizen’s Comments, he requested the board discuss increased emergency response times at a future meeting, and perhaps contact Governor Ron DeSantis and other state-level officials to find a remedy.

On January 16, Davis called 911 when his wife began having a seizure. He told the commissioners that he called at 9:52 and units from Hernando County Fire and Emergency Services (HCFES) arrived at 10:04.

Sadly, Davis’ wife had died before they arrived. Davis doesn’t blame HCFES for her death, indicating that she had succumbed to an extended illness.

Davis didn’t mention the name of the hospital but reported that he saw a line of ambulances parked after delivering patients. Davis told the board that he inquired why the ambulances couldn’t just drop off patients and return to service and was told that each unit is required to wait until hospital staff can find a bed for the patient.

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According to Chief Kenneth D. Wannen, Public Information Officer (PIO) for HCFES, the problem is COVID. The recent spike in cases is again overloading emergency departments and many patients are being admitted, filling hospitals to capacity.

HCFES and every other emergency services department in the country is governed by a federal law called the Emergency Medical Treatment & Labor Act (EMTALA). In part, this law states that an emergency medical professional cannot simply drop off a patient until a professional at the hospital accepts, signs for, and ultimately takes over the care of the patient.

If the proper steps are not followed during the patient’s “hand-off,” the emergency medical team can be charged with patient abandonment.

There is simply not enough space in hospitals right now. Patients brought in on HCFES stretchers remain on them until they can properly be received by the hospital, thus, the ambulance and team cannot leave until this happens.

Wannen also cited staffing shortages at hospitals. Also due to COVID, many healthcare professionals are out sick themselves. Others have left the industry in the last two years. Vaccine mandates have also contributed to the reduction of staff members.

The Hernando Sun spoke to a recent visitor to a local hospital. Teresa McNulty arrived by ambulance. After examination, she tested positive for COVID and was told the hospital intended to admit her, but she would need to wait in the lobby for 12-24 hours until a bed became available. McNulty declined the admission. She was given antibiotics, steroids, and a voucher for a cab ride home. She was instructed to quarantine for five days. As of this writing, she is still recovering at home and reports improvement in her symptoms.

The hospitals are feeling the weight but report smooth operations. According to Jennifer Siem, System Director of Marketing & Public Relations of Bravera, Brooksville and Spring Hill censuses are fluid and change throughout the day. Bravera currently has 32 COVID-positive patients with 4 in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) at Brooksville, and 14 at Spring Hill, 3 in the ICU.

Siem stated that Bravera’s emergency departments are prepared to see patients and she encourages the public not to delay seeking care in a medical emergency.

Bravera has social distancing in place and is practicing guidelines put forth by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

Like Bravera, Oak Hill is practicing the same infection control techniques. Katie Stacy, Director of Communications and Community Engagement, told us that Oak Hill treats every emergency patient and visitor as if they could possibly have COVID due to the virus’ contagious nature. Everyone entering the hospital must be masked, practice social distancing when possible, and practice proper handwashing.

Stacy reports that Oak Hill has designated COVID units. The number of patients was not available during this report, but the hospital remains at or above capacity.

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