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10Listens: Ambulances waiting longer to drop off patients as officials warn of less hospital space

In August, more than half of all AMR ambulances had to wait longer than 45 minutes before there was room for patients at the hospital.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Viewers across East Tennessee have reached out about their personal experiences with long wait times at hospitals as COVID-19 cases continue rising in the region.

Tracking the time patients need to wait when visiting the emergency room is challenging, but there are coinciding data showing that hospitals are running out of room.

American Medical Response, which dispatches ambulances to help people in distress, tracks how long they need to wait before patients can be offloaded at Knox County hospitals.

In the first few weeks of August, around 56% of ambulances needed to wait longer than 45 minutes to drop Knox County patients. Hospitals need to find room for patients arriving in ambulances, including staff to help them and a bed. In May, 47% of ambulances had to wait that long.

The rising number of ambulances having to wait long periods of time coincides with the increase in active COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations. Recently, the University of Tennessee Medical Center said the number of patients there was growing by up to three per day.

"The main point today is that the situation is accelerating and we are becoming increasingly concerned," said Dr. James Shamiyeh with UT Medical Center. "Our hospital and the other hospitals in the region are either at or have exceeded their prior peak of COVID-19 patients."

There was a similar increase in ambulance wait times when the number of COVID-19 cases previously spiked. In September 2020, they were at 36% before reaching 43% in November.