Contra Costa County seeks solutions for ambulance shortage

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By Yosi Yahoudai
Founder and Managing Partner

CONCORD, Calif.Contra Costa County officials are looking for ways to improve emergency medical services.

A shortage of ambulances, long hospital wait times, and difficulty hiring and retaining paramedics have led to multiple issues.

The number of calls for ambulances is straining the system, officials said. The issue was highlighted when the number of available ambulances reached zero on the Saturday before Mother’s Day.

Last week, Contra Costa County Fire District Chief Lewis Broschard expressed concerns at a county meeting over the increased demand for ambulances and the shortage of resources to support that demand.

The issue is not new in Contra Costa County, and it’s not just a local issue, according to Broschard. He and the county are now looking at ways to solve the problem.

“It’s my personal opinion that the emergency medical system, EMS, in this state, needs a significant overhaul,” he said. “As 911 calls keep coming in and ambulances sit in hospitals unable to transfer the patient to the hospital, the patient becomes worse and the number of available ambulances becomes reduced.”

Supervisor Diane Burgis said the issue has happened periodically throughout the years.

Since September, the number of ambulances has increased from 54 to 72 per day. However, officials said they’ve received 240 calls for an ambulance this year alone, more than two-thirds of them needed serious advanced medical attention.

Burgis and Broschard also note that paramedics are hard to hire and keep.

“We are putting up to a dozen firefighter EMTs through paramedic school and our subcontractor AMR is also putting their EMTs who want to become paramedics through this paramedic school,” explained Broschard.

Hospitals are overburdened and understaffed, with hospital wait times for ambulances up to an hour at places like Contra Costa Regional and John Muir Walnut Creek. The state standard is 20 minutes.

“We have seen some success with Sutter Delta in Antioch, which has reduced their ambulance patient offload time in the last 12 months by 50%,” Broschard said.

Broschard said this is a system-wide issue happening across the state, but in Contra Costa County, he’s working on implementing a program called Nurse Navigation, where 911 callers who don’t need an emergency transport can set up a doctor’s visit.

“The whole point is to try and take demand down so that not everything is a 911 emergency. Not everything requires a paramedic transport to the hospital or even transport to the hospital,” said Broschard.

The nurse navigation program would cost the county about $600,000 a year but could alleviate the system.

Supervisor Burgis said she is working to boost response numbers by focusing on community education, so people don’t strain 911 when they’re not experiencing an emergency.

“I think the most important thing is that we are making good choices as it relates to our healthcare and how we manage our health,” she said.

Burgis also wanted the community to note that if you do experience a crisis, you are not going to be stranded, someone will arrive to help you.

“We all have to work together to find an appropriate set of solutions,” said Broschard.

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About the Author
Yosi Yahoudai is a founder and the managing partner of J&Y. His practice is comprised primarily of cases involving automobile and motorcycle accidents, but he also represents people in premises liability lawsuits, including suits alleging dangerous conditions of public property, third-party criminal conduct, and intentional torts. He also has expertise in cases involving product defects, dog bites, elder abuse, and sexual assault. He earned his Bachelor of Arts from the University of California and is admitted to practice in all California State Courts, and the United States District Court for the Southern District of California. If you have any questions about this article, you can contact Yosi by clicking here.