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Lengthy hospital wait times in Knox County prompt temporary changes to ambulance contract

Mayor Glenn Jacobs and health department officials put a temporary AMR agreement into effect to improve ambulance response times.

KNOX COUNTY, Tenn. — Hospital emergency room wait times in Knox County are up. 

"Typically we have prolonged waits for my crews at the emergency room anywhere from one to five hours," Kenneth Loftis, the Operations Manager at American Medical Rescue, said.

RELATED: Knox ambulances endure long waits at emergency rooms

It's an issue that county contracted, AMR, has been dealing with for over a year. 

"There are several reasons. We have more patients from out of county coming to our hospitals, there's more patients in the hospitals and few discharges from hospitals," Lofits said.  

At the request of Dr. Martha Buchanan, the Senior Director of the Knox County Health Department, and Mayor Glenn Jacobs -- Knox County and its ambulance service provider of record, Rural/Metro of Tennessee, L.P. have agreed to a temporary operational change to the existing Ambulance Service Agreement. 

The 90-day agreement is designed to better ambulance response times throughout the county by altering service requirements, according to a release from Knox County. 

The current contract requires an advanced life support ambulance to respond to all 9-1-1 calls.

"The change allows us to use our BLS units to respond to and transport our lower acuity patients," Loftis said. 

AMR puts their ambulances into two different categories, advanced life support (ALS) and basic life support (BLS). ALS ambulances are equipped with one paramedic and one EMT. BLS ambulances are equipped with two EMT's. The difference in those two positions is education and skills they can perform. 

"It's frustrating because we aren't using our resources appropriately," Loftis said. 

Another contributing factor to long wait times is the recent closure of Physicians Regional Hospital in North Knoxville. 

"It didn't help the situation. It made it a little bit worse obviously," Loftis said. 

Loftis said this 90 day period will put more ambulances on the road, and his main focus is making sure they're taking care of patients.

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