Patient transfer times increase as Harris County hospitals deal with staffing shortages

ESD 11 Mobile Healthcare CEO Doug Hooten said hospital wall times are increasing for EMTs transferring patients as hospitals deal with staffing shortages. (Courtesy Harris County Emergency Services District 11)
ESD 11 Mobile Healthcare CEO Doug Hooten said hospital wall times are increasing for EMTs transferring patients as hospitals deal with staffing shortages. (Courtesy Harris County Emergency Services District 11)

ESD 11 Mobile Healthcare CEO Doug Hooten said hospital wall times are increasing for EMTs transferring patients as hospitals deal with staffing shortages. (Courtesy Harris County Emergency Services District 11)

Harris County Emergency Services District No. 11 Mobile Healthcare emergency medical technicians are spending more time waiting to transfer patients from their care to hospitals as some area hospitals struggle with staffing shortages, ESD 11 Mobile Healthcare CEO Doug Hooten said at a Dec. 16 meeting.

According to Hooten, wall time refers to the period of time in which a patient is in the hospital but is still under the care of the EMTs who brought them in until the hospital admits them.

“We call it wall time because the patient is usually on a stretcher along the wall with the paramedics monitoring them and continuing to take care of them,” Hooten said. “Then, the ambulance can’t leave because we can’t leave the stretcher and get the crew back into the ambulance.”

Hooten said the average wall time for paramedics is just over an hour. Ideally, that time would be around 25 minutes, he said, meaning those ambulances are losing about 35 minutes that could have been spent responding to other calls every time a patient is transported to the hospital.

Hooten said at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic and briefly in September when ESD 11 Mobile Healthcare first launched, wall times could sometimes last as long as four hours due to the low availability of beds. Now, Hooten said the problem revolves more around staffing issues, which he said is an industrywide struggle for hospitals.


“It’s not just an ‘us’ issue, it’s an all-services issue,” Hooten said. “Any of the hospitals that we service, you’ll see a variety of ambulance folks against the wall monitoring patients.”

Hooten said his staff has implemented several measures to help expedite the process, including sending supervisors to the hospital to try to get the ambulance released. He also said there have been cases in which another ambulance is sent to the hospital with an extra stretcher and additional staff, allowing those staff members to stay with the patient so the original ambulance can get back on the road.

Hooten noted his staff will continue to monitor the situation and try to find ways to avert lapses in service.

In other business, ESD 11 commissioners received an update on the May 7 election. At a Nov. 18 meeting, commissioners voted to opt out of running a joint election with Harris County in favor of running its own election.

At that meeting, Monica Garza, an attorney with Radcliffe, Bobbitt, Adams and Polley PLLC who provides legal counsel to the district, cautioned commissioners against running their own election due to the availability of poll workers.

Additionally, ESD 11 general counsel Regina Adams said the district could potentially face Voting Rights Act violations if it is unable to secure enough workers to run the polling locations.

Garza noted as of Dec. 16, the district has been able to secure 32 of the 45 poll workers she thinks will be needed to run a smooth election.

“The election officials that you do have committed have been giving our information to other people, so every few days, we’ll get another person,” Garza said. “We’re close. We’re getting there.”

ESD 11 commissioners Kevin Brost and Fred Grundmeyer will be up for re-election in May.