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California hospitals and ambulances overwhelmed amid COVID-19 surge

A South Bay hospital has made its way out of the woods, but COVID patients are still flooding the halls.

SAN DIEGO COUNTY, Calif. — California lawmakers are working on solutions as hospitals and ambulances continue to be overwhelmed with the latest COVID-19 surge. A South Bay hospital has made its way out of the woods, but COVID patients are still flooding the halls.  

An internal disaster declaration for Sharp Chula Vista Medical Center ended Wednesday. On Tuesday, Jan. 18 they issued a declaration after admitting more than 70 patients filled every bed they had left in the emergency department. 

Officials say they were able to free up room by moving people out of the department. This comes as state lawmakers hear from emergency workers from across California on how busy hospitals and ambulances have been.

Emergency health workers in California say they're waiting hours to transfer patients from ambulances to hospital emergency rooms due to chronic delays worsened by the nearly two-year coronavirus pandemic. 

During a state legislative hearing, first responders on Wednesday said taking more than 20 minutes to receive a patient at a hospital emergency room isn’t good for the patient and impedes their ability to head out on new emergency calls. 

Doctors say delays in lab work and insurance authorizations contribute to the hospital bottleneck. They also say too many non-urgent patients are seeking emergency room care. California is grappling with a rise in hospitalizations following a spike in coronavirus infections that began late last month.

On Wednesday, the California State Assembly Committee on Emergency Management held an oversight hearing about how this problem has been decades in the making, but has only recently been exasperated by staffing shortages and high demand because of the latest COVID-19 surge.

Some of the proposed solutions suggested Wednesday include: 

  • Develop new regulations as current EMS regulations were established more than 40 years ago.  
  • Fine hospitals anytime they hold an ambulance for longer than 20 minutes. 
  • Ask hospitals to hire their own EMT’s to care for patients once they’re dropped off. 
  • Ask hospitals to pay EMS services for their wait times anytime they are held over. 

Assemblymember Freddie Rodriguez, D-Pomona, said these long wait times are not good for patients, ambulance crews, firefighters, medics or someone making an urgent call to 911.

"Because of the Chairmanship that I have in this committee, we can move some legislation forward if it’s all for the right reason and it’s really going to help at the end of the day, get people treated and get people taken care of in a timely fashion," Rodriguez said.