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Less serious 911 calls put on standby due to Durham EMS staffing shortages

4 Aug 2022 4:34 PM | Matt Zavadsky (Administrator)

This is very typical of what’s happening in many communities across the country, regardless of provider type… 

And, not surprisingly, people are not dying in the streets. 

Using effective emergency medical dispatch (EMD), low-acuity calls can be safely identified with appropriate response time expectations for the caller and community….


Less serious 911 calls put on standby due to Durham EMS staffing shortages

August 2, 2022

By Monica Casey, WRAL Durham reporter


DURHAM, N.C. — Less serious 911 calls in Durham are being put on standby, as Emergency Medical Services deals with a higher call volume and short staffing.

Just after midnight on Sunday, scanners captured this: No units available, and right now it's holding chest pain. Alpha response.

That low priority call was held for just over 13 minutes, until a unit was available, according to Durham EMS Chief Mark Lockhart.

Having no crews to respond - and leaving a less serious call on standby - is becoming more common.

"I can't say that it actually happens daily, but it is an almost near daily event," said Lockhart.

He says the issue is a combination of increased call volume, almost 9.5% over Fiscal Year 2021, and short staffing.

Out of 165 total positions, EMS currently has 22 vacancies: 5 are for EMT positions, and 17 are for paramedics.

Lockhart is hoping the profession will attract those with a desire to serve others.

"There are very few jobs I think where you can come in each and every day, and have the contact that we do with people, some of them experiencing perhaps their worst day, but at the end of the day go home knowing that you've made a difference," he said.

He believes the county's new thriving wage initiative will help with recruitment and retention.

"It looks like the average increase is 18%," he said.

Durham EMS also has to wait with patients when bringing them to a local hospital. That can take up to 30 minutes, delaying things even more.

Lockhart says low priority calls can be held from 10 to 30 minutes, but they try not to keep anyone waiting longer than that.

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