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Health

Flu epidemic causes long wait times for ambulances at hospitals

KING

A patient is wheeled through the ambulance entrance at a hospital in Snohomish County.

A patient is wheeled through the ambulance entrance at a hospital in Snohomish County. less

SNOHOMISH, WA - The influx of flu patients at our hospitals is having a domino effect on healthcare in our state, especially when it comes to emergency transport of patients to the hospital.

When an ambulance arrives at a hospital in Snohomish county, the patient inside may be in for quite a wait for an available bed.

"It's completely not the norm of what we're used to," said Deputy Chief Scott Dorsey of Snohomish Fire District 7. "We're used to walking in, and they say, 'You're in room 12,' and we go straight to room 12."

Dorsey has been tracking the data on EMS transports this week. A map shows every EMS transport in Snohomish county in the last 72 hours. All the markers in red on the map indicated a "wall time" at the hospital above the acceptable standard of 45 minutes. Some were as long as 90 minutes.That's how long an ambulance is waiting for an empty bed in the ER to open up for their patient.

KING

Red markers on the map indicate an unacceptably high "wall time."

Red markers on the map indicate an unacceptably high "wall time." less

It's not just a problem for the patient.

"When the ambulance leaves the community to go to the hospital, a lot of time the area where the ambulance is stationed from is now uncovered," Dorsey said. "And if a second call comes in for that area, now we have to pull resources in to cover that area. It's a ripple effect downstream."

Hospitals have been so full this flu season, that sometimes they have to divert patients elsewhere. In December 2015, Snohomish county only had four such diversions. But this December, the county had 62.

"It's rare," said Dorsey. "Usually when the flu season hits, we hear about it, but it doesn't peak suddenly like this."

Dorsey is sending a survey to fire districts throughout the state to assess how widespread the problem is, hoping to find ways to save time and help hospitals treat every patient that comes through the door.

Copyright 2016 KING


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