Guest Column — Hot Topics

Do I need an ambulance, an ER, urgent care, or my doctor in an emergency?


Everyone, at some point, will experience that unmistakable moment of panic upon realizing that whatever illness or injury they are suffering from is beyond the healing of a Band-Aid, ice pack or even chicken soup. A person’s first inclination may be to rush off to the emergency room, and in extreme cases, call an ambulance to get there.

Is calling an ambulance to go to the hospital appropriate for your situation? Some have become accustomed to calling an ambulance for mundane medical problems. When this occurs, the entire system pays the price. This includes you as the patient, other people who also need help, the resources of the local emergency responders and the hospital. It also may not be the most cost-effective way to get the right care.

With Long Beach Medical Center closed, and uncertainty about its future, the community senses a void in its medical care. The Fire Department, however, has been able to adapt to the lack of a community hospital. While there has been an increased burden on our resources, we have been able to adapt to the challenges and still provide paramount emergency medical care for our community.

There are often multiple, true medical emergencies occurring at the same time. There have also been times that our primary ambulance was tied up assisting in nonmedical emergencies, while other emergencies occurred. This is a preventable burden on public safety.

In true emergencies, people should call 911. In Long Beach, our Fire Department provides the community with advanced life support ambulances; Fire Department-based emergency medical services have been proven to be the most efficient EMS system for the public. Historically, 911 ambulances are designed to help in emergency medical situations. While we won’t refuse to help any one who seeks medical assistance, it is best to not tie up an ambulance when you can seek other more appropriate facilities for care.

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