In Mobile, if you need an ambulance, it might not be available – FOX10 News

Investigative Reporter

MOBILE, Ala. (WALA) – At one point Wednesday, there were no ambulances available to respond to 911 calls in Mobile.
The reason? The fleet was tied up, mostly with COVID-19 patients.
Health care officials said it is another sign of a system in jeopardy of breaking down.
“That means that that next car wreck, that next cardiac arrest, that next diabetic emergency, stroke call – any of those medical emergencies where we would normally respond and have a very quick response time – may be delayed because we don’t have any ambulances available,” said Steven Millhouse, a spokesman for the Mobile Fire-Rescue Department.
The call went out at 11:21 a.m. over the emergency radio frequency: “All stations, stand by. Copy general information. Fire alarm has reached critical mass index zero. There are no rescue trucks citywide.”
Millhouse said there have been times, such as a natural disaster, when all of the department’s special heavy rescue trucks were in service at the same time. But Mobile Public Safety Director Lawrence Battiste told FOX10 News that he does not recall all of the ambulances ever being tied up simultaneously before the pandemic.
Battiste said it has reached that point several times over the past week and a half, however, particularly between the hours of 3 p.m. and 7 p.m.
“What I saw last year and what I’m seeing right now tells me that we’re experiencing a much more critical response with everything that’s happening right now,” he said.
When an ambulance is not available, officials said, paramedics answer emergency calls in a fire truck.
“You’re going to get a response,” Battiste said. “Again, the response that you get may not be what you typically look to see.”
That actually has happened in the past few weeks, officials said.
A driver who crashed into a house on South Washington Avenue on Wednesday afternoon was fortunate that an ambulance had just come back online from the hospital.
Millhouse said the paramedics can stabilize the patient until an ambulance becomes available. But he added that it is far from ideal.
“It could be very dangerous for anyone else in the city because our entire health care system is completely overwhelmed right now,” he said.
Rendi Murphree, the Mobile County Health Department’s top epidemiologist, said ever part of the health care system is stressed.
“Our system is tapped out,” she said during her daily briefing. “It is as bad as it’s ever been.”
Murphree, director of the department’s Bureau of Disease Surveillance and Environmental Services, said she worries more people with emergencies will drive themselves to the hospital. They still will have to wait, but without the benefit of potentially life-saving treatment on the way, she added.
“It could really mean that people have bad outcomes,” she said.
Murphree added: “So it will be very sad when you know, a mother goes into labor or someone has a heart attack or a motor vehicle accident injured, you know, a person or a child that needs transport to the hospital, and not having an ambulance available to that.”
The reason for the surge, according to officials, is the sheer volume of emergency calls for COVID-19. Mobile Chief of Staff James Barber, who previously served as the public safety director overseeing the Fire-Rescue Department, said ambulances back up at overwhelmed hospitals – unable to quickly transfer patients into the emergency room.
“They’re calling them ‘wall patients,’” he said, adding they are so nicknamed because paramedics place the gurney carrying the patient against the hospital wall until the patient can be moved to a bed.
Even when an ambulance crew does finally get the patient inside, Millhouse said, the equipment must be disinfected before it can go back into service.
“We’re doing everything we can to try to expedite that process, and the hospitals are doing everything that they can, as well, to try to expedite that process, creating additional space to make sure that they can intake people a lot sooner to get ambulances back in service as quick as possible,” he said.
Battiste said the city is trying to address the crisis, but options are limited. Ordinarily, he said, Mobile could seek help from nearby ambulance companies. But they are overwhelmed, too, he said.
“You look to the east of us, and you look to the west of us, they’re right there as red as Alabama happens to be,” he said. “And so it’s a challenge.”
Barber said Mobile recently added a 12th ambulance and has two more on order. He said they should be available fairly soon since one was a demonstration vehicle and another was originally purchased by another department that never picked it up.
But Barber and Battiste both said big-ticket orders – the ambulances cost between $125,000 and $150,000 apiece – have been slowed by disruptions to supply chains caused by the pandemic.
“So we’ve got ambulances on order, but as you know, across our country there have been delays in getting any type of equipment, whether it’s PPE (personal protective equipment) or if it’s hard equipment like garbage trucks or if it’s hard equipment like police vehicles or ambulances – it takes time,” Battiste said. “So there is a delay.”
All content © 2021, WALA; Mobile, AL. (A Meredith Corporation Station). All Rights Reserved.
MOBILE, Ala. (WALA) — The City of Mobile said it ran out of ambulances on Wednesday. The call for a ‘critical mass level zero’ was issued aro…
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