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Ambulances forced to wait hours with patients as free ICU beds in short supply

As ICU capacity continues to be an issue in Arkansas, hospitals are unable to take patients coming in right away— causing some to wait in ambulances for hours.

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — As ICU capacity continues to be an issue in Arkansas, other problems are popping up because of it.

Only 14 beds are available in Arkansas as of Wednesday afternoon, leading to delays when it comes to ambulance drop-off times.

"We've got really double the number of patients, in a way, than what we've been dealing with recently," Dr. Sofie Morgan, a physician in the emergency department at UAMS, said.

Normally, patients are out of the ambulance and headed towards an ICU bed in a matter of minutes. Now, it could be hours.

"Our goal would be, when they arrive with a patient on a stretcher, we immediately have a nurse there to receive that patient," Dr. Morgan said. "A space to care for that patient and immediately transferred over to our care."

That's not a very common thing to see anymore.

"They're on the wall, an hour and a half, two hours, three hours before they can get back in service," Ken Kelley with the Arkansas Ambulance Association said. "That happens daily."

Kelley says the issues Dr. Morgan is seeing in her department aren't isolated – they're statewide.

"This is just an ongoing disaster," he said. "It seems like there's no rest or recovery period, when you do get a little break, you're certainly still planning and preparing for the next phase, and then the next phase happens."

That disaster isn't easy to work through – burnout is very real, especially with this new surge.

"It's hard because you know what you're coming into when you come into work that day, and frankly, we know we're not at the peak of this," Dr. Morgan said. "All of us are kind of tense, knowing that it might even get worse."

But even with that, both are optimistic.

This is what they signed up for, and they're not planning on stopping now.

"They are there to be the frontline defense, for health and public safety," Kelley said. "Don't hesitate to call us, and together we're gonna get through this, and EMS will always be there to care for you."


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