San Diego County

San Diego County Hospitals Try Diverting Ambulances Due to Limited Capacity, Staff

San Diego County public health officials said the so-called ambulance diversion program aims at preventing local hospitals from becoming overwhelmed by patients

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Limited hospital capacity in San Diego County due to increasing COVID-19 patients and limited staff created a trial by fire over the weekend for a pilot ambulance diversion program designed to equitably distribute patients among hospitals amid a disaster.

“This new tool is an added level of ability to manage patients in the pre-hospital space,” Dr. Eric McDonald, Medical Director with the County Epidemiology Immunization Branch, said. “And that was a new tool available and used a couple times by some hospitals over the weekend to good effect."

NBC 7's Audra Stafford breaks down how the county is trying out a new program that diverts ambulances, all in an effort to prevent hospitals from becoming overwhelmed as COVID-19 cases continue to rise.

The County Ambulance Diversion program can be implemented during a crisis but isn’t meant to last more than a few hours. The requirements are as follows:

  • CAD must be approved by a county Emergency Medical Services duty officer.
  • CAD lasts a maximum of four hours at a time, but can be reapplied if determined necessary.
  • Ambulances must bypass hospitals under diversion status unless their patient could not survive transport to another hospital.

“What’s happening now and what's been happening for quite some time is the hospitals are working together between the systems in a way that I would say is unprecedented for this period of time.

County public health officials say these tactics significantly expand health system capacity to handle a rush of patients. It also helps free up paramedics more quickly to be available to respond to new 911 calls.

It’s up to individual hospitals to request ambulance diversion. 

Emergency Medical Services Director Kristi Koenig wrote a memo Tuesday indicating several San Diego County facilities recently requested diversion status.

By diverting ambulances in this way, the county hopes Emergency Rooms can have some time to catch up on their wave of patients. Once ERs are able to safely accept patients again, they will no onger diver the ambulances.

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