SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) — Officials with Chatham Emergency Services say their ambulances are waiting hours to drop off patients, taking them away from responding to other calls.

Phil Koster, chief of operations, explains it typically takes 25 minutes for an ambulance to pick a patient up, drop them off at the hospital and get back on the road. But so far this year, Koster said that time is going up.

“We are at a crisis level,” he said. “Even last night, we had upwards of six to eight ambulances just at one hospital that were sitting there waiting for a room. Meanwhile, the 911 calls keep coming in.”

Just last month, there were 650 times an ambulance was put on the wall to wait to drop off patients, according to Koster.

Koster said the highest wait time on record for Chatham Emergency Services is eight hours. While he said staffing shortages at local hospitals are contributing to the issue, it’s largely due to people calling 911 for non-emergencies.

“Unfortunately some people just game the system,” he said. “They’re calling an ambulance thinking ‘well if I go by ambulance to the hospital then I will go to the front of the line.’ And actually, the opposite is true. Sometimes you’ll wait even longer because you’ll go to the waiting room or you’re tying up that resource for someone who isn’t breathing.”

For issues like minor injuries or blood pressure checks, Koster said you should go to urgent care or see your primary care doctor.

“But if you call 911 and you’re not breathing, you need CPR we will find a way to free up a unit,” he said. “However, those who call 911 for minor aches and pains, you’re probably going to have to wait a while. Because we want to keep those ambulances available for those true life-threatening emergencies.”

Koster said EMS is not in a position yet where they need to turn people away, but it’s not off the table. Officials are also reminding people to call 988, not 911, if they are experiencing a mental health emergency.