Ambulance companies transporting nursing home patients hundreds of miles away

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) — In an effort to relieve overcrowding, local hospitals are discharging some patients to nursing homes hundreds of miles away but those patients can’t get there on their own. So, already stressed ambulance companies are now having to make the extra-long trips which is adding even more stress to a health care system already in crisis.

It’s not uncommon for ambulance companies to be called in to transport patients from the hospital to a nursing home or vice versa,

“In the past, we might go out to Wayne County or to Batavia, places like that but usually in the [Rochester] metro area on a fairly regular basis,” explained the CEO of Monroe Ambulance John Caufield.

That was before the state’s vaccine mandate for healthcare workers went into effect causing serious staffing shortages at most local nursing homes. Dozens of nursing homes have closed their doors to new admissions which means, “the hospitals are bursting at the seams as we all know,” Caufield said, “the hospitals need to get these patients out of the emergency department, out of facilities so, we’re finding ourselves going further and further distances.”

Those distances are often well outside of the 585 area code.

“Fairly routinely we’re going to the New York City metropolitan area, Erie, Pennsylvania,” Caufield said.

Those transports often require a crew of three to four EMTs and Paramedics and an ambulance to be pulled out of rotation for an entire day.

The State of New York has deployed about a dozen FEMA ambulance crews across upstate New York to try and help with transports from overflowing hospitals. There is a crew stationed in Batavia but local ambulance companies haven’t heard much from or about how it’s being used.

“At a certain point, we’ve got more calls for service than we have capacity to deliver and so that’s where this surge capacity idea comes in but absent any sort of guidelines or seat at the table to discuss this and work out some of the parameters, were kind of flying solo,” Caufield said.

In a statement, a spokeswoman from the New York State Department of Health (NYSDOH) told News10NBC, “NYS secured 30 ambulances through FEMA from the National Ambulance Contract (NAC) to come from out-of-state to assist with patient transport when it becomes necessary for hospitals to transfer patients anywhere due to hospital capacity or need for specialty care.”

The units were brought in to help with patient transfers, especially patients who have to be transferred longer distances to receive care so that local EMS resources can focus on responding to 911 calls. NYSDOH said the length of the operation is 30 days with an evaluation to occur at the 20-day mark to determine if the operation should extend past the 30 days.

The ambulances are stationed in Albany, Syracuse, Batavia, and New York City and all requests for assistance are coordinated between the requesting facility and the NYS Surge Operations Center. As of Sunday evening, 169 NAC patient transports had been completed, according to the NYSDOH.