Alameda County has contracted with a European ambulance company. Falk. The company is expected to respond to life-threatening emergencies within 10 minutes.
“We waited 20 to 25 minutes,” Pleasanton resident Don Galli said.
Galli’s wife, Patricia, broke her leg and suffered internal bleeding. Fire crews arrived five minutes after the 911 call.
“They said let’s do something for your pain because it will be a while before we call an ambulance,” Galli said. “We have problems”.
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Galli is not alone. According to the company’s compliance records, 916 medical calls in Alameda County in December did not meet standard response times. I-Team ABC7 News spoke with Troy Hagen, Chief Commercial Officer of Falck Northern California.
Stephanie Sierra: “Do you think it is acceptable to wait for a call with a priority of 20-25 minutes?”
Troy Hagen: “That’s not the goal. It’s never the goal. We want to respond within 10 minutes.”
According to the company’s contract, life-threatening medical calls that require the sounding of lights and sirens are classified as “Code 3”. In areas such as Pleasanton, response time for code 3 calls should be between 10 and 14 minutes, depending on the priority level of the emergency.
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The company contract requires compliance with response time standards in 90% of cases. But compliance reports obtained by the ABC7 News I-Team show Falck failed to meet that standard in two of the county’s regional areas – East Metro Urban and North Metro Urban – last December. Prior to this, Falck had failed to meet standards in the county’s three regional zones – east, north and south – from August to November last year. Compliance reports can be viewed at Alameda County Ambulance website.
“This may have been the toughest couple of months in my 33-year EMS history,” Hagen said. “Just a combination of a lot of different factors that came together this fall.”
Alameda County Emergency Management, the agency that oversees the county’s ambulance logistics, fined Falck $215,000 last September for failing to meet standards. I-Team has asked if there have been any other subsequent fines, but has yet to receive a response from the company.
Hagen said the two main factors that contributed to the non-compliance are shortages of staff and long delays of patients in hospitals.
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“We have several ambulances in one hospital waiting to transport their patient,” Hagen said. “So they don’t work sometimes until several hours, until one team brings the patient.”
“It’s a mess,” Sierra said.
“Yeah, it’s a mess,” Hagen said.
A mess that puts the burden on local fire departments. I-Team ABC7 News spoke with Alameda County Fire Chief William McDonald.
Chief McDonald: “It’s a snowball effect. It starts in one county but then spreads in waves. We are falling further and further behind in our ability to respond to the emerging needs of our community.”
Stephanie Sierra: “Have you heard that firefighters have to transport patients in a firetruck to get them to the hospital?”
Chief McDonald: “We absolutely heard it… This is an unsafe condition and we cannot provide the proper level of care and follow-up for patients as they deserve.”
While staff shortages and long hospital wait times affect Falck, they are not a problem in other counties.
Santa Clara County, which has a slightly larger population than Alameda County, has contracted with the Rural Metro ambulance company. Unlike Falck, Rural Metro complied in all county zones last year despite the similar effects of the pandemic.
Falk told ABC7 News I-Team that they are looking to improve emergency response time, are actively running job fairs and offering bonuses for hiring new employees.
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“We have shown a steady improvement since it was the worst a few months ago,” Hagen said. “I think we’re on track to have everything within the contract.”
The company has improved since the I-Team first started studying response latency. According to Falck’s January 2022 Compliance Report released late Monday night, the company is meeting response time standards across all areas of the county for the first time in five months.
“If there is a personnel problem, it needs to be solved,” Galli said. “It’s not a cable company that has a 30-minute window and you can learn to live with that if they’re late.”
Hagen says Falk is missing at least 50 EMTs and paramedics. According to the company’s websiteThere are six open positions in Northern California, two of which are EMT positions and one Paramedic position, all of which have been posted within the last month.
The company’s contract with Alameda County runs until 2024.
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