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No-show ambulance worries Richmond man: ‘I was just stunned’

Posted at 5:42 PM, Oct 11, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-11 18:29:45-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- The CBS 6 Problem Solvers investigated an incident in Richmond where someone was in need, called 911, and help never arrived.

Grayum Vickers said he called 911 for an ambulance late Friday night when we witnessed an older man fall and hit his head in Scott’s Addition.

“One of the people with us was a registered nurse and helped us get him out of the road safely,” Vickers said. “But there was still a lot of blood coming out of his head and he seemed really disoriented, so we were really concerned.”

Vickers called 911 again after 25 minutes passed and with no sign of an ambulance from Richmond Ambulance Authority (RAA). This time, he said he received an automated message warning of high call volumes.

After waiting on hold for several minutes, Vickers said he was able to speak with a dispatcher for a second time.

“He was like, ‘Well, all of our trucks are busy right now,” Vickers stated. "I was like, ‘What do you mean? Are you coming?’"

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Vickers said the dispatcher responded that there weren’t any available ambulances, and they didn’t have an estimated time of arrival.

“I just couldn’t believe it. Never have I experienced something like that,” said Vickers.

An RAA spokesperson said, at the time of the call, there were five ambulances and one supervisor for the entire city already responding to Priority One calls (life-threatening) or at the hospital.

The predicted demand for that night was nine ambulances. Due to a surge in calls, the actual demand was 14 ambulances for the city, according to the spokesperson.

“We are still experiencing a staffing shortage and we have also been seeing a spike in our call volume and usually the spike has been above predicted demand. We cannot say why we are seeing these spikes but the spikes along with being short-staffed have caused delays in responses occasionally. However, we are also seeing signs of improvement and encouragement,” the RAA spokesperson wrote in a statement on Monday.

RAA dispatchers had determined the patient's injuries were a Priority Two call, which is a step below the most serious designation.

Vickers said after waiting 40 minutes a family friend picked the injured man up in their personal vehicle and transported them to the hospital.

The ambulance was then canceled at 11:31 p.m. The injured man's condition is unknown.

In July, the CBS 6 Problem Solvers spoke to about a dozen former and current RAA employees about why they left the agency. They detailed issues with low pay, low morale, and stressful conditions leading to staffing shortages.

RAA is currently operating with about half the number of employees needed to meet demand.

The agency recently raised the base pay for employees and has moved to a Tiered Response System that would send EMTs to less severe calls and allow paramedics to respond to more serious emergencies.

“Looking at the two weeks prior to implementing the new system, and the two weeks since implementing the new system, we got to 37% more emergency calls in an appropriate amount of time since moving to the Tiered Response System than we did the prior two weeks,” according to RAA.

Their response goal for Priority 1 calls is 8:59 seconds or less.

RAA’s policy also requires dispatchers to call a patient waiting for an ambulance after 15 minutes and ask for an update on their condition. That didn’t happen during Friday’s 911 call.

However, EMS agencies are still facing the same challenges and massive staffing shortages plaguing the industry all over the U.S.

Vickers, who just moved to Richmond with his wife earlier this year, called the delayed response times “worrisome.”

“I can’t imagine being the one in a bad situation like that waiting for someone to come help,” he stated. "I was just stunned, definitely confused and frustrated."