SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) — In just a few days, one of the Peach State’s five trauma centers will close its doors for good.

WellStar’s Atlanta Medical Center has been in business for 100 years, on Nov. 1 the hospital will be shuttered. That will leave the peach state with just four level-one trauma centers.

Memorial Health in Savannah is one of them.    

Emergency response crews in Chatham County said they’re concerned the loss of one of Atlanta’s trauma centers could increase already high ambulance wait times in the Coastal Empire.

Chatham Emergency Services (CES) said since the start of the pandemic, wait times for ambulances have gotten worse due to backups at our local hospitals. He said on Thursday alone that around five ambulances were unable to respond to calls due to a prolonged wait.

“Prior to the pandemic, wall-time was simply not existent,” Phil Koster said.

Wall-time, it’s what emergency crews use to measure the wait time ambulances face after arriving at a hospital. CES Chief Operating Officer Phil Koster said it varies day to day but since 2020 the wait at our local hospitals is way up.

“Healthcare has been extremely taxed, very very busy,” Koster said.

A shortage of nurses and bed space is what’s driving this issue nationwide, but now Georgia’s health care system is losing one of its most critical trauma care centers. Leaving emergency teams concerned it’ll add to the problem.

“The closure of the trauma center in Atlanta has a trickle-down effect in the sense that those hospitals have less resources, therefor patients are going further and further out,” Koster said.

Koster said these staffing shortages are also increasing the number of instances where a hospital is unable to take an incoming patient. 

“Here within Chatham County, we use a diversion status to make sure now particular hospital is getting overwhelmed or if a hospital is overwhelmed to move patients and direct them towards the other hospitals,” Koster said.

This diversion status is becoming a more common occurrence in the aftermath of the pandemic, Koster said.

“Every day at least one hospital is on a certain level of diversion, even to the point where ambulances physically cannot go to that hospital,” Koster said.

According to EMS, ambulances are experiencing a combined average of 14 hours of wait time a day, which Koster said is impacting ambulance response times in our area.

“When ambulances are waiting [for] one, two upwards of eight hours to relay that patient to the ER, that delays the response to the next patient,” Koster said.

Now Koster said responders are concerned WellStar’s closure will put a further strain on resources.

“The ambulance system, county, state and nation-wide is already somewhat of a house of cards, with Wellstar closing, this could be the one that really puts us over,” Koster said.

CES said since the start of the pandemic there’s also been a 31% increase in 9-1-1 calls.