County helps slammed hospitals divert certain ambulance patients


SAN DIEGO — Statewide, hospital space is dwindling fast, with most intensive care units filled to capacity. Some emergency departments in San Diego have been so overwhelmed that they’ve had to turn away ambulances.

That’s forced the county to introduce a new program called County Ambulance Diversion, which they hope will help solve that issue. The term “diversion” in this case refers to a tool used by emergency departments when they become so full, they need a break to catch up.

Under the new program, which started this week, hospitals that need to temporarily divert ambulances away from their ER can get approval to do so from the county for no more than four hours. During their diversion time, the medical facilities will only need to accept patients who are so critical that they cannot survive transport to another facility further away.

County Emergency Medical Services will manage the diversions to help make sure ambulances have somewhere to go, but also that hospitals get the breaks they need to keep beds open and process patients.

“This is allowing us to provide appropriate care and make sure that we can handle the emergencies that our community might have during this COVID surge,” Joshua McCabe told FOX 5.

He’s the Director of Emergency Medical Services at Sharp Memorial Hospital.

“If someone is having CPR or having a heart attack or stroke, we would still be able to take those patients, because we could always make a bed somewhere to ensure they get the care they need. But it allows other patients who aren’t so time-sensitive to go to another nearby hospital,” McCabe said.

The new policy is already proving to be very beneficial, as McCabe says they recently ran into a situation with 17 medics arriving at their hospital within a 30-minute period.

“We needed to take a pause in the medic traffic coming into our emergency room because we weren’t able to off-load them quickly,” McCabe said. Using the new diversion program bought them an extra two hours, and they were able to get back on track.

The county hopes to replicate that success stories at hospitals across the region.

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