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New protocol allows saturated SD hospitals to temporarily turn away ambulances

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Posted at 4:52 PM, Dec 16, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-16 21:19:02-05

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) - Following a surge in 911 calls from COVID-19 patients, the County of San Diego is now allowing hospitals to divert ambulances if their emergency rooms are already too full. The County reports that the new protocol was tested last weekend and proved to be successful.

The County reports that this new type of diversion goes above and beyond the routine ambulance diversion of only a subset of patients that hospitals use on a regular basis.

Hospitals across San Diego that are saturated are now allowed to request total ambulance diversion, meaning ambulances have to stop bringing in more patients. A letter posted this Tuesday from the County's Director of Emergency Medical Services details how the new protocol will help area hospitals recover from the rapid influx of patients.

According to the County, “Hospitals on County Ambulance Diversion only accept patients who are so critical that they cannot survive transport to another facility (e.g., cardiac arrest, breathing problems that cannot be managed in the ambulance); thus, nearly all basic and advanced life support (BLS and ALS) ambulances must bypass a hospital on County Ambulance Diversion.”

The County reports that a hospital can only implement the diversion in 4-hour blocks which must be approved or initiated by the County.

Rob Lawrence with the California Ambulance Association explained Wednesday that this type of diversion allows for decompression. “It allows [hospitals] to get a bit of time to process those patients that have already come into their emergency departments. It also means that ambulances aren't sitting in the parking areas for up to four hours with a patient on board.”

He added that it also aids the ambulance services because they can then move patients to hospitals where the wait times are lower. “What that means is [that] they can then return to service quicker which is of course good for the next patient or person that's going to call 911,” he told ABC10 News.

According to the County, the new diversion protocol has been implemented by local emergency departments several times over the past few days.