SILVERDALE, Wash. - First responders in Kitsap County are sounding the alarm, hoping the public and elected leaders take note after firefighters noticed patients having to wait inside ambulances for too long— sometimes for several hours— before they are admitted to the emergency room.
Fire department chiefs say that while their EMT’s are waiting in Silverdale for patients to be admitted to St. Michael Medical Center, they cannot respond to other calls in their jurisdiction
There are interagency agreements for all six fire fighting agencies that have been picking up the slack when backups at St. Michael Medical Center are bad, but fire department chiefs want this problem fixed.
"One of our units was there for 3 hours and 54 minutes," said Chief Hank Teran from Bainbridge Island Fire Department.
Teran said the delays impact his community in ways that neglect firefighter and community training, and more.
"I’ve never seen a situation I’ve seen right now, where our units are waiting this long in the emergency room," Teran said.
It’s not only Bainbridge Island– the five other fire departments in Kitsap County shared similar concerns about ambulance wait times at the hospital.
"This is unchartered," said Chief Jeff Faucett of South Kitsap Fire and Rescue.
Faucett is also the chair of Kitsap County EMS and says his and other departments have been meeting with St. Michael Medical Center officials to iron out a fix.
St. Michael Medical Center officials say an extremely high capacity and staffing shortages are partially to blame for the backups. When patients at the hospital are ready to be discharged, there isn't space at post-care facilities either, officials said.
Hospital president Chad Melton shared a statement with FOX 13 News that reads, in part:
"We are utilizing our mission control command center and working to ease strain through various strategies to ensure we can care for all our patients."
Both first responders and St. Michael Medical Center officials vow to continue working to find solutions, but firefighters don’t want the public to see ambulances backed up and choose instead to avoid calling for help.
"We don’t want people to second guess when they call 911," said Faucett. "If they need to go to ED (emergency department), they need to do that."
To avoid further backups, the Kitsap County Fire Chief’s association says emergency responders now have new operating procedures.
The directive says when there are more than 2 ambulances waiting at St. Michael Medical Center longer than 45 minutes, new patients with non-life-threatening issues could be diverted to another facility for care if they agree to a transfer.