‘We are in the perfect storm of health care hell right now’: Misuse of 911 leading to overwhelmed Guilford County EMS crews

Piedmont Triad News

GUILFORD COUNTY, N.C. (WGHP) — Guilford County EMS crews have reached their breaking point, as calls for service increase with heavy traffic of non-severe emergency transport.

“We are at a place that I have never been in my 30 years of emergency services,” said Kyle Paschal, the EMS deputy director.

What he means by that are the call volumes that his department sees on a daily basis.

Each year, there is a consistent increase in calls by roughly 3 to 5% each year. However, in the past three weeks, those calls have increased by 20%, with no ability for his department to increase the number of resources at his disposal.

“From the time they start their shift, to the time they end it, they are playing catch up,” he said.

The current unit staffing is to have 10 transport trucks in service around the clock, six additional single-person medic units, and 12 peak-demand units that will be activated during the highest call volume on any given day.

With 22 transportation trucks on the road at any given time a day, crews have to respond to more than 280 calls in a 24-hour period.

EMS crews have seen a lot of those include individuals who are misusing the service.

There is a roughly 12-hour wait time at local hospitals for individuals who want to be seen.

People have begun to call EMS to be transferred to the hospital with the idea that they can bypass that wait time.

EMS paramedic Shaman Sellars stresses that is not the case.

“A lot of people are under the misconception that if you take an ambulance, you’re not going to go to the waiting room. I’m here to tell you that’s not the case. We take you right to the waiting room. You are seen by how critical your illness is, not how you got there,” Sellars said.

People have also started to call EMS to have an emergency COVID test.

That, coupled with the strain on hospitals has created a perfect storm that EMS crews now have to ride out.

“We are in the perfect storm of health care hell right now,” Sellars said.

Paschal explains if you have mild symptoms of any illness, you should first contact your physician or schedule an online doctor’s appointment.

“There has always been some level of misuse of the 911 service, but none as much as it is today. We’re going to get to the point where we’re not going to respond to all of the emergencies that are out there.”

Guilford County EMS is also working to hire more paramedics and EMTs to combat this call volume increase as best as they can.

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