Ambulances left waiting hours to drop off patients at Memphis hospitals, firefighters’ union says

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. – Some ambulances have been forced to wait as long as 12 hours outside Memphis hospitals to drop off patients, according to the Memphis Fire Fighters Association.  

The problem appears to be tied to the recent surge in COVID-19 cases, which has brought many hospitals to capacity. 

Tuesday afternoon, the Memphis Fire Department confirmed ambulances were backed up at St. Francis’ Park Avenue location as well as at Methodist South, where the wait time was reportedly an hour long. 

“I wish it was an hour ‘cause it’s a lot longer than an hour that they’ve been waiting. We’ve had them wait as long as 10, 12 hours,” said Thomas Malone, president of the Memphis Fire Fighters Association which also represents paramedics.  

Malone said ambulance wait times began building in early December –- around the same time COVID cases spiked.  

He worries to long waits will prevent ambulances from responding to emergencies. At a single hospital, he said 14 ambulances were waiting to drop off patients one day. 

“When we have people that are having to stay up there three, four, five, six, seven hours, they’re sitting there doing nothing. That means there’s calls out in the street that they’re not able to go on because they’re what we call ‘out of service.’ They have a patient,” Malone said. 

In a statement, Methodist LeBonheur Healthcare wrote:

“Like at most area hospitals, some ambulances may experience longer offload times during a snapshot in time. MLH emergency departments have processes in place to provide proper care for patients as they arrive to the hospital.”  

As of Tuesday morning, Methodist had 256 COVID patients at its hospitals. Of those, 82 patients were in the ICU, leaving just five available ICU beds across the entire Methodist hospital system.  

St. Francis Healthcare didn’t address the ambulance wait times specifically, instead writing: 

“The number of COVID-19 positive patients we are caring for across our system is manageable … In the event we see a surge of positive cases that need to be hospitalized, our hospitals have plans in place to continue providing care safely.”  

Malone thinks changes should be made.

“There’s got to be something going on that I think could be fixed and our people are ready for a fix,” said Malone.  

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