MetroSafe shortage leaves seizure patient waiting nearly 40 minutes for an ambulance
Lori Fox returned from her morning run Monday and found a stranger passed out in the middle of the street. The 63-year-old woman was clearly in need of help, but when she called for it, she heard: "An operator will be with you shortly."
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Lori Fox returned from her morning run Monday and found a stranger passed out in the middle of the street.
The 63-year-old woman staggered before she hit the ground, clearly in need of help, but when Fox called for it, she heard: "An operator will be with you shortly."
"A hold message on 911 ... I just didn't expect that," Fox said. "I called twice."
WDRB News first uncovered MetroSafe 911 calls going to recordings in early February. Since then, more than 22,500 callers have heard that message according to Louisville city records.
The problem stems from a shortage in operators.
MetroSafe spokesperson Mitchell Burmeister said the city hired 17 new call-takers and dispatchers in the 911 center since February, but twelve positions remain open, and there's still mandatory overtime to fill minimum staffing requirements. Burmeister said all of Louisville's emergency services are inundated now more than ever with overdose calls.
"In 2015, not quite 4 percent of our runs were overdose runs. So far this year, we are seeing about one in every 10 runs is an overdose, " Burmeister said. "(It) ties up the police, fire, EMS and causes a strain on the emergency response system."
Last year, the city of St. Matthews purchased two of its own ambulances, in part due to long waits for MetroSafe response. It wouldn't stop Louisville's city agency from making emergency runs to the suburb but perhaps see patients get help faster with some help close by.
But Monday, neither of St. Matthews ambulances were available, and when Fox finally reached 911 around 9:48 a.m., it took nearly 40 minutes for an ambulance to arrive at her Grandview Avenue home.
"I was shocked," she said.
St. Matthews Police seemed frustrated as well. Two officers arrived at the scene at 9:52 a.m.. WDRB News obtained the radio transmissions as the officers called back to police headquarters several times over 30 minutes asking for EMS.
"You did say EMS is coming over here," one officer questioned.
"Was EMS OK on coming over here?" the other officer later asked.
"They've been advised sir, " the police dispatcher said.
The officers pressed a third time for an estimated arrival on the ambulance, and the police dispatcher provided more of a response.
"They have had no one." the dispatcher said. "(MetroSafe has) apparently been overwhelmed with runs and had an insufficient amount of paramedics or EMS on the street. They're rolling on it now, rural metro apparently."
Not only was MetroSafe unable to send an ambulance for the the woman in need, the city's backup, yellow ambulance, was also swamped.
At 10:24 a.m.. Rural Metro, a private ambulance company arrived and brought the victim to Norton Women's and Children's Hospital. The patient wishes to remain anonymous, but the 63-year-old said she suffered a seizure when she passed out in the middle of the street and that she has a history of epilepsy.
Dr. Rebekah Woods, an epileptologist at the Norton Neuroscience Institute, said that wait time for EMS is vital.
"During a seizure, there is an abnormal discharge of electrical activity in the brain," she said. "How much do these 40 minutes matter? It can make the difference in life or death for some patients."
Fortunately, the victim regained consciousness at the scene and is OK. Nonetheless, it's alarming to Fox.
"I have two kids at home, and what happens if something happens to one of them?" she said. "This woman was someone's loved one, and to me, it was absurd to get a busy message for 911."
MetroSafe still said more than 90 percent of its calls, about 300,000 so far this year, were answered in the first 20 seconds.
"We would certainly like to do better," Burmeister said of Monday's response.
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