AKRON, Ohio — Tallmadge Fire Chief Mike Passarelli says he's just one of several Summit County chiefs growing increasingly worried and frustrated by longer wait times at Akron-area hospitals due to staffing shortages in emergency departments.
"The problem is their problem becomes my problem," Passarelli said. "An acceptable wait time is 30 minutes. We've seen two hours or more."
Passarelli said if two of his ambulances are tied up at hospitals for long periods, he had to call in other firefighter/paramedics, which costs him overtime.
"That incurs money and people and then they have to catch the next call," he said. "What's happening is the hospitals are having a problem with staffing and that spins back to us."
Fire chiefs are also worried about response times to other emergencies if ambulances are stuck in hospital bays.
"The last two fires I've had, we've had an ambulance at the hospital-- one of them with an extended wait time," Passarelli said.
Passerelli told News 5 that he recently started a policy to retrieve some of his paramedics who are waiting at hospitals.
"In other words, if we're babysitting in the hospital, I'm only going to leave them one person with our patient on their cot in their hospital."
Passarelli added he's so frustrated by the wait times, he may ask city council to consider legislation that would require hospitals to reimburse fire departments for overtime if waits last more than 30 minutes.
"I think it's only fair to be able to bill hospitals for excessive wait time," he said.
Summa Health leaders have said the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated a staffing shortage problem, not only at Summa, but at hospitals across the country.
This week, Summa announced it was pausing elective procedures and reducing in-patient beds by more than 20%. The changes will allow the healthcare system to focus more on acute care areas and reduce the wait times EMS crews are facing.
"While we're shrinking the footprint, which seems counterintuitive, we're also increasing our throughput in the hospitals, safely changing the way we deliver care, changing the way we're rounding, so we're moving patients through more quickly and safely," said Dr. David Custodio, the president of Summa Health Akron and St. Thomas.
In a statement, Cleveland Clinic Akron General said the hospital has seen a significant increase in both volume and acuity of patients as well as increased demand for beds.
With the current national staffing challenges, there have been delays in getting patients into beds, the statement said.
"Steps we have taken include having EMS crews move appropriate patients to triage rooms to allow for initial evaluation and to start the patient workup. Any squad that has waited 30 minutes is asked to alert our resource nurse and attending ED physician to help find a place for the patient."
Greta Johnson, the director of communications for Summit County Executive Ilene Shapiro, said the office was made aware of concerns regarding EMS wait times.
"Our office had conversations with hospital administrators and had a plan to sit down with fire personnel and hospitals to have meaningful discussions to find solutions," Johnson said. "While we understand that fire personnel are frustrated, we also know that our hospitals are doing their very best to provide care for all individuals who come through their doors."