Alameda County to Address Ambulance Response Time Concerns
Oakland Fire Chief Requests Review of Falk Performance
By Tony Kukulich
Sep 29, 2021 Updated Sep 30, 2021
Alameda County — Pressure on Falck Northern California, the provider of emergency ambulance service for much of Alameda County, appears to be building in the wake of increasing emergency medical response times across the county.
Officials have called for an investigation, while local unions have questioned the company’s business practices.
Reginald Freeman, fire chief with the Oakland Fire Department, requested an investigation into Falck ambulance response times in the City of Oakland between Jan. 1, 2020, and Aug. 31, 2021 in a letter sent to the Alameda County Emergency Medical Services Agency (ALCO EMS), the organization in charge of managing countywide ambulance service.
“Between July 1, 2021, and Aug. 17, 2021, there were a total of 462 response delays,” wrote Freeman. “That’s an average of 11 per day. The incident descriptions for these calls include but are not limited to stabbing, gunshot, sexual assault, seizures, breathing problems, stroke, traumatic injury, chest pain, overdose and hemorrhage laceration. Our residents and visitors deserve to have the best services, which includes their loved ones being transported to the hospital in an expeditious, safe and orderly manner when there is a medical emergency.”
Response time concerns have not been limited to the western part of the county. Impacts of extended response times have also been felt in the Tri-Valley.
“We have seen Chief Freeman’s letter, and we do share many of his concerns,” said interim-Fire Chief Joe Testa of the Livermore-Pleasanton Fire District. “We have experienced some extended response times for Falck ambulances in Livermore and Pleasanton. At times, the Alameda County Fire Department has dispatched their paramedic ambulance from the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory to respond to calls in our jurisdiction when there was a lack of Falck ambulance availability or an extended estimated response time.”
In an email to The Independent, Falck USA Director of Marketing and Communications Jeff Lucia said he wasn’t aware of Freeman’s letter, but that he shared Freeman’s concerns about increasing response times. He noted that average response times in the county have increased in recent months, a result he attributed to delays experienced by ambulance crews while waiting to transfer patient care to hospital staff, referred to as wall time.
“We've seen a slow increase in response times countywide of approximately 60 seconds in the past three months, in tandem with an increase in time spent waiting with patients for beds at hospitals of approximately 12 minutes, due to the hospital labor shortage up and down the state and across the nation,” Lucia said.
ALCO EMS acknowledged Freeman’s concerns and said that efforts are underway to make improvements.
“We have identified some systemic problems that are contributing to longer response times,” said Jerri Applegate Randrup, communications officer with Alameda County Health Care Services Agency. “We have multiple mitigation efforts in place, and we advised Chief Freeman that we would keep the fire chiefs apprised of our progress.”