CHARLOTTE — Channel 9′s Gina Esposito has spent months investigating the response times of Mecklenburg County’s EMS agency, and has learned more about how staffing issues affect them.
MEDIC says staffing levels continue to be the agency’s biggest problem. On Friday, it told Mecklenburg County commissioners it’s short 69 EMTs and paramedics. Now, those open positions are impacting how fast they can respond to calls.
For the first time in five years, MEDIC dropped below the county’s response time compliance.
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Here what that means: MEDIC’s goal is to respond to priority one calls in under 10 minutes and 59 seconds for 90% of the time. In 2022, MEDIC only responded to those calls in that timeframe 87% of the time.
Those challenges have put a strain on the ambulance system, and they impact how MEDIC responds to patients in Mecklenburg County.
At Channel 9, we listen to police, fire, and MEDIC channels on scanners at all hours of the day. So when we heard dispatchers say MEDIC didn’t have an ambulance to send on at least two calls, Esposito immediately started investigating.
The first call we heard was over the fire scanner at 4:45 a.m. on Jan. 3.
“Information only. MEDIC is out of ambulances. They don’t have a truck for your call yet,” the first dispatcher said.
“Copy. Can you check with Cabarrus County?” the second dispatcher asked.
And then, minutes later -- “37-year-old female, MEDIC is out of ambulances,” a dispatcher says.
“10-4. Is it possible that we can get GEMS or something?” the second dispatcher asked.
On the other end of that second 911 call was Shaketa Goodman. She had no idea that MEDIC was searching for an ambulance for her medical emergency in west Charlotte, and that it was even asking if Gaston County EMS could respond.
“I was laying in bed and all of a sudden, I started feeling sharp pain in my chest,” Goodman said about that day. “And it was shooting through my arms and going down my legs.”
“We thought I was having a heart attack,” she said.
Goodman was recently in a car accident. She uses a walker and told Esposito she has had a heart attack before. It’s why her fiancé didn’t drive her to the hospital and immediately called 911.
“She was in a panic. It wouldn’t have been safe for either one of us, so that was like the only option,” he said.
Around that same time, on the opposite side of the county in northeast Charlotte, a woman who asked us not to share her name said she called 911 for her mother, who she thought was having a stroke. That was the first call Channel 9 heard on scanners.
She said firefighters responded right away, but it took several minutes for MEDIC to arrive.
“That’s concerning because this is a senior home for someone like my mom, which his why I was here for her. And we need to have them available for situations like this,” she said.
MEDIC sent Esposito a statement saying in part:
“During surges of high call volume, MEDIC has contingencies in place, including the standard practice of mutual aid agreements with surrounding agencies, trained first responder partners and extended response times for non-life-threatening emergencies. It is more important than ever to utilize 911 appropriately to relieve unnecessary pressure on an already stressed healthcare system nationwide.
“MEDIC continues to do its part and internally focus on recruitment and retention while creating strategies to prioritize our sickest patients.”
Esposito checked MEDIC’s response times for both calls and found they were the following:
- Call 1: Responded in 11 minutes, 9 seconds. Goal: 10 minutes, 59 seconds
- Call 2: Responded in 16 minutes, 51 seconds. Goal: 12 minutes, 59 seconds
Both missed the goal response times -- one by 10 seconds and the other by nearly four minutes.
Goodman hopes MEDIC can make changes.
“It did surprise me hearing about it because if it would have been a situation to where it was extreme, where I could have lost consciousness or even died, my fiancé would have experienced something traumatic,” Goodman said.
To be clear, MEDIC did respond to both calls, and the women were transported with non-life threatening injuries.
MEDIC said there are times when they don’t have any ambulances available, as things are changing constantly with calls and staffing. This is one example as to why the agency is in desperate need of more staff, and why you can expect to wait longer for an ambulance.
On Friday, MEDIC did say it’s hopeful its staffing will get better this year. Starting on Feb. 7, a new EMT program will start at Central Piedmont Community College. The program is funded by the county, and MEDIC predicts 40 students will graduate by July 1, helping to significantly close MEDIC’s staffing shortage.
To learn more about that opportunity and about other job availability at the agency, click here.
(WATCH BELOW: MEDIC adjusts its response times to 911 calls based on their urgency)
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