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NCFPD patients need patience at ERs due to long off-load delays

It might be better to see their primary as illness or injury dictates and avoid ER

Karen Ossenfort

Special to the Village News

One recent medical emergency call for North County Fire Protection District where a patient was transported had what seemed like an unusually long, turn-around time. The majority of NCFPD calls on any given day are medical emergencies.

"We are starting to see an increase in long off-load delays," said NCFPD PIO John Choi. Off-load delays are the amount of time it takes once a patient is at the hospital before an emergency ambulance can leave the patient. He said Covid cases are starting to surge again, increasing off-load wait times.

Choi explained that at the peak of Covid, ambulances would be parked along the hospital walls waiting their turn to off-load a patient. It often took hours. So response times to calls in the community were impacted. Paramedics/firefighters must stay with their patients under certain circumstances until a bed is available for them. Choi said if a patient can handle staying in the lobby hallway, and isn't on IVs, or other medical devices or meds, they can then leave them under the care of a nurse.

"Tri-City Medical Center has historically been at or below average for "wall times'' for EMS offloads at our medical center. As you can imagine, hospitals throughout the region and around the country have seen ebbs and flows in offload delays over the past several years due to COVID-19 patient surges and workforce challenges. We are not immune to those externalities but are seeing improvements recently," said TCMC spokesperson Aaron Byzak.

Palomar Hospital and Inland Valley Medical Center also were contacted but did not respond by deadline.

"People are starting to use the Emergency Rooms as their primary care because they don't want to wait several weeks to see their primary," Choi explained. "This impacts Emergency Rooms greatly."

Choi explained that triage at the hospital is always triage and works that way regardless if you get transported by ambulance for a tummy ache or walk in with one. "Triage in hospitals is always in place," Choi said.

Hospital ERs, Choi continued, are required to see strokes, heart attacks and other life threatening health concerns, such as a ruptured appendix, or severe lacerations, shooting victims, bad fractures, first. So, if you come in with something more mild, you will have to wait to be seen.That's why getting in to see your primary doctor trumps going to the ER for a cold, flu or tummy ache.

Choi said it doesn't discount a request to be transported by ambulance. But while the patient is home talking with paramedics and firefighters, they will tell the patient that depending on the severity of the patient's illness or injury, they could wait to see their primary, or get transported and wait for hours at the ER.


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