Houston EMS providers report long waits for patient handovers

Officials also said high call volumes due to COVID-19 are straining the city's EMS system


By Laura French

HOUSTON — Houston EMS providers are reporting increased call volumes and long wait times to transfer patients from ambulances into hospitals amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Houston Fire Chief Sam Peña told KHOU11 last week that providers have often had to wait up to an hour for patient handovers as hospitals are being filled to capacity. 

Houston Fire Department officials say EMS providers have had to wait to transfer patients into hospitals for up to an hour or more, and that higher-than-usual call volumes are straining the understaffed department. (Photo/ArtisticOperations, Pixabay)
Houston Fire Department officials say EMS providers have had to wait to transfer patients into hospitals for up to an hour or more, and that higher-than-usual call volumes are straining the understaffed department. (Photo/ArtisticOperations, Pixabay)

Peña also said call volume has increased by 20% over the last three weeks, putting further strain on the system. 

More than 180 fire department personnel are currently quarantined due to COVID-19, and another 55 have contracted the disease, officials said. Additionally, Peña said the department was already short-staffed by about 300. 

After at least 560 calls ended in wait times of an hour or more to hand over patients, leaving several of the agency's 104 ambulances unavailable to respond for extended periods, Peña warned that the problem could lead to patients not getting the care they need. 

One health system in Houston, the Texas Medical Center, reported that 100% of its ICU beds were full, and that about 28% of its ICU patients had COVID-19. 

Peña said the best thing the public can do to help is to stay at home and take precautions to prevent the spread of the virus, and to only call 911 for medical emergencies, including chest pain and shortness of breath, but not for more minor possible virus symptoms such as a fever or cough. 

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