Ambulance services across the Southern Alleghenies transport our families, friends, and neighbors to local hospitals every single day.
But what happens when those hospitals are full, overwhelmed, or understaffed?
Hospitals can put themselves “on diversion.”
That’s when a hospital asks ambulance services to transport patients elsewhere.
Bob Haddad is the Manager for Northers EMS in Somerset County, who says they’re always paying attention to which hospitals are on diversion.
“Diversion isn’t new, but it’s become of a mainstream thing in the past few months,”
EMS officials say that redirecting patient care could lead to decreased patient care.
“It plays a role in how many calls can you handle if you’re 10 minutes away from your building, or an hour and 10 minutes away from your building,” Haddad said.
The Southern Alleghenies EMS Council (SAEMS) works to improve emergency medical services in Bedford, Blair, Cambria, Fulton, Huntingdon, and Somerset Counties.
Earlier this week, SAEMS officials sent a letter to all EMS agencies and facilities, reminding them that hospital diversions are a “request.”
The letter states, “There is no obligation on the part of the EMS agency to agree to that request, and EMS agencies should do what they feel to be appropriate for the patient and for the EMS system.”
Carl Moen, the Executive Director for SAEMS, encouraged providers to use their own expertise, knowledge, and assessment of the situation to determine whether to agree to diversions.
“We sent that information out to clarify and make sure that EMS agencies were aware of that and provide guidance to make sure they realize these are the criteria under which they operate,”
The letter states that diversions overload those alternate facilities which makes them implement other options for treating patients like placing tents outside of their emergency department.
“I’ve heard from several EMS agencies, especially within the Johnstown area, that have indicated they appreciate that guidance and appreciate that information, because it makes it easier for them to be able to do their jobs and make those decisions on where those patients should be transported to,” Moen said.
We asked health officials at Conemaugh Memorial Medical Center what they think about the letter.
Chief Executive Officer Bill Caldwell says the letter doesn’t change anything for them because they’ve never turned a patient down on or off diversion.
“It’s not so much about agreeing or disagreeing with it. In this instance, there’s a federal law in terms of how hospital emergency departments operate. If a patient or an ambulance service shows up on your property, you have to care for that patient,” he told 6 News.
We also asked what if too many ambulances obey that letter and disobey their diversion requests?
Dr. Matthew Perry, Chairman of the Department of Emergency Medicine, says they’re prepared for that situation.
“That comes with a triage, and depending on the amount of people, resources, and space that we have, patients may have to wait. We’re trying our best to limit wait times,” Dr. Perry told us.
But everyone working on the front lines of the pandemic whether they be EMS workers, nurses, doctors, or other medical professionals all have the same goal: to help people in their community.