Guilford County Emergency Services Director Jim Albright has to stay calm under pressure because of the job he occupies, and he does that.

However, Albright was very animated and grim at a Thursday, Sept. 2 Guilford County Board of Commissioners work session when he explained the current immense strain on the county’s ambulance service.

Albright’s message to the board was nothing short of alarming. Ambulance demand is far outpacing supply, and, unless something major is done soon, the service is going to falter.

Albright told the commissioners in the Blue Room of the Old Guilford County Court House that ambulance services in Guilford County were taking on water from all sides.  COVID-19 patients are calling ambulances in droves. Some drivers are out of work due to the pandemic, and response times are expanding due to overwhelming demand in the 651 square miles of the county.

Albright said one performance measure the department uses is having at least 90 percent of calls answered in under nine minutes.  While in the past the department has met that goal, now only 55 percent of the calls are being answered in that time frame.

The Emergency Services director told the board that the statistics from August were overwhelming and the projections for coming months are alarming.

“This is something that is unsustainable quite frankly,” he told the board.

Albright said emergency responders across Guilford County were getting burnt out and they were taking jobs in nearby counties where the demand wasn’t so intense.

One solution on the table is allowing the Emergency Services Department to look for one or more contract providers on an emergency basis.  Albright said that, given the universal demand right now for emergency response workers, it’s not clear that there will be any takers.

The county commissioners seemed appropriately alarmed and several – including Chairman Skip Alston – expressed a desire to give Albright and his department the support he needs to address the problem.

“At the Sept. 2 work session, the board voted unanimously to schedule a public hearing necessary to take steps to remedy the situation in the manner suggested by Albright.” 

After the meeting, Commissioner Alan Perdue said the potential cost of getting another service provider was unknown currently but it should not be prohibitive for the county because much of the cost could be made up with revenue generated by each ambulance ride.