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Hospitals over capacity will continue to receive patients as EMS networks will not honor diversions

Hospital Generic
Posted at 12:25 PM, Dec 31, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-31 19:39:22-05

PHOENIX — Hospitals that are overcapacity in the West Valley will continue to receive patients by ambulance, as some emergency medical services (EMS) agencies have decided not to honor the diversions that some hospitals have put into place after experiencing an increase in patients, sources have confirmed to ABC15.

ABC15 is learning that first responders with various ambulance companies and networks will no longer divert patients from hospitals, even if there is a backlog of patients and even if those hospitals are over capacity.

The move comes days after the state’s largest hospital network alerted the public that more than a half-dozen Valley hospitals are diverting patients from hospitals from ambulance traffic because of a backlog of patients.

As of Tuesday morning, six of Banner Health's Phoenix-area hospitals were actively diverting patients, according to a post on Banner Health's website. Earlier this week, up to 10 Valley hospitals were diverting patients.

Those hospitals are closed to incoming emergency transports and hospital transfers while health care workers quickly address the backlog of patients, Banner Health said.

The diversion does not apply to walk-in patients who need emergency care, however. Also, hospitals may go on and off diversion throughout the day, if they're able to free up enough capacity and resources while others may remain on diversion for longer, officials with Banner Health have told ABC15.

ABC15 sources shared internal memos with the station that stated "EMS will no longer honor Diversion’ in the West Sector that includes different networks in the West Valley."

"Please disseminate this information to your facilities and members throughout your agencies. This will be reevaluated in 30 days," the memo said.

The internal document warns that there could be an increase in "offload times" as all facilities are experiencing high volumes of patients and that resources are limited.

There is no law or regulation about diverting ambulances in Arizona -- it is essentially an honor system where EMS and hospital networks work together to make the entire system work.

A spokesperson for Banner Health tells ABC15 that although different EMS agencies have voted to not honor its diversion, hospitals may still go on diversion as an indication to EMS that they are busy and working through a backlog of patients.

“It is up to EMS to honor those diversions and take patients to the next nearest hospital that is not currently on diversion,” a spokesperson said in an email to ABC15.

The spokesperson also said that its hospitals will not turn anyone who walks in and needs emergency care, "even if a hospital happens to be on diversion at that time."

"All those in need of emergency care will still be treated," the spokesperson said.

Instead, patients may have to wait longer or may need to be transferred to another hospital within Banner Health's network, something Banner Health has done over the last week "to balance the load of patients so that we can provide safe, appropriate care for everyone who needs it," the spokesperson said.

ABC15 has reached out to a few emergency and ambulance companies in the Valley for comment.

In a statement, Maricopa Ambulance said: COVID-19 presents a continuously evolving challenge for the state’s health care system, and our first commitment is always to the patient. EMS professionals always make decisions, including clinical issues and patient destination, in the best interest of the patient. Decision are based on the EMS professional’s expertise, experience and training, as well as guidance from our clinical protocols and medical directors and following rules and regulations from the Arizona Department of Health Services.