By Rachel Wulff

SACRAMENTO (CBS13) — The pandemic has exposed many things when it comes to deficiencies in our health care care system, and one issue has reached the tipping point for first responders: wait times.

“It is not the responsibility of a 911 agency to augment hospital staff,” Said Cat. Parker Wilbourne with the Sacramento Metropolitan Fire District.

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Wilbourne says backups are now the norm. Tuesday evening, eight ambulances were waiting to drop off patients in the UC Davis Medical Center emergency room.

“We can’t have our end sitting on walks for upwards of eight hours at a time,” Wilbourne said.

Fire chiefs and Emergency Medical Services administrators warned of the issue in a letter last August, but it’s been going on for a decade.

“And the frustration is at a boiling point,” Wilbourne said.

He says staffing issues have been compounded by the pandemic, which has prompted quarantine protocols and put COVID-19 patients in available hospital beds.

“Just last week, we dropped off 40 cots to four different hospitals because they said they didn’t have enough beds,” Wilbourne said.

And it’s costing millions. Last November alone, the region spent $500,000 for first responders to wait with those patients.

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“We are at a point where we are consolidating patients, so one paramedic that’s on that wall could potentially be caring for four parents in that hallway,” Wilbourne said. “So it’s almost a triage within the emergency room that we’re providing.”

That is potentially exposing firefighters and EMS personnel even further to the COVID-19.

Photos from Metro Fire show backups are happening at all hospitals in the Sacramento area: Kaiser, Sutter and Mercy San Juan. Wilbourne said it’s become a public safety issue.

“That might mean your mother, your father, your sibling. If they have a cardiac or some kind of emergency, they might be waiting an additional 5-10 minutes for an additional ambulance that’s coming from a further distance away,” he said.

UC Davis says there are a high number of patients calling 911 and asking for an ambulance for non-emergency needs, and that arriving at the hospital by ambulance does not guarantee the patient will be seen immediately.

The hospital sent us a statement saying:

“The staff is working hard to treat every patient. However, anyone coming to the emergency department should expect longer than normal wait times due to the record-high number of patients. Twice in the past three weeks, our emergency department has set new records for the most patients seen in a single day — and our hospital has been here for 150 years.”

The problem presents a bigger question: should public service agencies be footing the bill for private hospitals?

“It is not the responsibility of the fire department or a private ambulance company to create solutions for hospitals they need to manage their emergency rooms,” Wilbourne said.

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A task force has been in place since 2015 to come up with solutions. Other counties have opted to have EMS personnel drop off less acute patients in the ER waiting room.