I-TEAM: Leaders say ambulance crisis is costing lives

Published: Jan. 18, 2023 at 5:45 PM EST
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AIKEN, S.C. (WRDW/WAGT) - Leaders in emergency services throughout Aiken County are sounding the alarm yet again on a crisis that they say is costing the lives of citizens.

A shortage of EMS crews and dispatchers is forcing people who need help to have to wait for it.

On New Year’s Eve, Aiken County went to status zero five times, meaning there were zero crews available to answer calls five times that day. Leaving 31 calls to 911 pending until an ambulance became available.

In 2020, we uncovered the county went into status zero 118 times over 123 days, leaving 160 calls to 911 pending until an ambulance became available.

The county went to status zero 102 times, leaving 182 calls for help pending that’s more calls pending calls in December than the total we uncovered over four months during the pandemic. Now there’s a bigger concern, Gold Cross is pulling out of Aiken County.

Tuesday night, the fire chief in New Holland spoke before the council-urging them to take immediate action.

“This started out as an occasional issue and now as being a daily issue. The county on any given day has around four AMA stations that are closed in status zero. Some of us have been texting and sending you information every time I hear status zero or no EMS available. So you kind of know about it. I finally got no response, so I quit doing it because it seemed like nobody cared and that bothers me. You as elected officials should care about the citizens of Aiken County as much as I do as a volunteer fire chief,” said Dennis Jackson, New Holland fire chief.

The county council addressed this crisis two years ago by increasing pay, but it hasn’t helped with turnover. Aiken County reported having 17 open EMT positions and nine open dispatch positions at the end of December.

This not only trickles down to people in need of medical emergency services but also those in need of fire services. More than a dozen volunteer fire departments throughout the county are held up longer at medical emergencies waiting on EMS to arrive, meaning they are unable to respond to fire calls.