Solutions for the ambulance shortage in Knox County

Knox County opened the Emergency Operation Center Tuesday for the first time for a non-weather related issue.
Published: Sep. 13, 2023 at 11:51 PM EDT
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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) - The company that provides ambulances for Knox County said it is working with the mayor and hospital leaders to solve the ambulance shortage.

For nearly three hours on Tuesday, the county was at level zero, which means no ambulances were available, forcing patients to wait longer than normal to be taken to the hospital. With a higher volume of 911 calls in a short period of time and longer than normal emergency room wait times triggered the county to open an emergency operations center, so it could assess patients and get them medical treatment. This was the first time the county opened an EOC for something like this besides severe weather.

WVLT News got answers from Knox County leaders to what’s being done to prevent this from happening again.

“So yesterday was just a series of unfortunate events where there were truly more calls than we had ambulances to respond to there wasn’t necessarily more calls all day rather than at once and that happens in emergency health care,” Joshua Spencer, AMR’s Regional Director, said.

He said this is a problem nationwide not just here in Knox County. Between wait times at hospitals and not enough staff to treat patients at once, he said people are still being treated, it might just be by other first responders.

“High acuity patients that need care, get care in our community. The ambulance may be delayed a few minutes, the transport may be delayed, but the care is being provided by the wonderful first responders we have in this community,” said Spencer.

Spencer said they were at a level zero which means there were no ambulances available to transport patients. This happened again Wednesday morning. He told WVLT News that AMR submitted its proposal to Knox County to continue its contract as an emergency service provider for the area on Tuesday.

“I believe the RFB addresses most of the problems not the ones that just occurred yesterday but the ones that have been occurring for a long time it was an old contract that’s not up to date with the current state of our health care system in this county,” said Spencer.

GMR, an ambulance service that operates in Knoxville, is assisting AMR at this time. Brent Seymour, Public Safety Director for Knox County said they are going to look through every proposal they get to determine the best ambulance provider for Knox County.

“So once last night settled down, the mayor’s office is actually going to get with the current provider for our EMS and just see what kind of plans to try to ensure something like this at least doesn’t happen again or if it does its minimal effect on the system,” said Seymour.

AMR said that it put in several key systems to make sure people are getting an ambulance when they need it. AMR is partnered with the Rural Metro Fire Department and it will begin dispatching additional ambulances into the EMS system for support.