COVID-19 · Fresno · Health

Fresno Co. halts all non-emergency ambulance uses

The Fresno County Department of Public Health is asking people to stop calling an ambulance or going to the emergency room for non-emergency medical conditions as local emergency rooms are currently overrun. 

Last year, the department implemented an assess and refer policy for all Emergency Medical Services (EMS) calls during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Paramedics on dispatch would assess patients on the scene to determine the necessity of an emergency room trip or refer them to an urgent care or their general practitioner. 

That policy has been resurrected by the department as all patients who have non-emergent medical conditions will be prohibited from being transported to the emergency room by ambulance. 

The department said the policy was reimplemented in response to the increasing volume of pre-hospital calls, over capacity of emergency rooms and an increase in patient off-load times at hospitals. 

EMS Coordinator Dale Dotson said the conditions regarding staffing and capacity within the hospitals and ambulance providers remain extremely critical. 

“Hospitals are operating at disaster levels and there is very low patient bed capacity. Most of our hospital emergency departments are holding ICU and other levels of admitted patients that are waiting for beds to open within the facilities,” Dotson said in a statement. 

“These patients require significant emergency department and resources that are no longer available for emergency department use. We are frequently seeing ambulances waiting 2-4 hours to turn over a patient, and the EMS agency is taking the step of directing ambulance providers to no longer transport individuals with non-emergency medical complaints that meet a predetermined criteria.” 

The policy comes at a time when Fresno County is facing a high level of patients hospitalized due to COVID-19. 

According to the latest data provided by the state, there are currently 304 patients hospitalized with the virus, 72 of which are in the county’s ICU beds. 

“The intent of this policy reimplementation is to reduce the impact of patients on the local emergency departments and increase availability of ambulances to our communities,” FCDPH Director David Luchini said in a statement. 

“An ambulance will continue to be sent to all requests for service. If it is determined by ambulance personnel that the patient is stable and does not require emergency transport, EMS personnel will assess the patient and provide an appropriate alternative recommendation.”

Daniel Gligich is a reporter for The San Joaquin Valley Sun, focusing on Fresno State Athletics and the southern San Joaquin Valley. Email him at daniel.gligich@sjvsun.com.