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People from Akhalkalaki Municipality complain about their local ambulance service; they say that it is not fast enough. The manager of the service counters that the reason is a shortage of doctors and crews.
People often complain about how ambulances operate in Akhalkalaki Municipality. Iulia Shirinyan has called Jnews’s office indignantly twice to complain that it is wrong and that the situation needs to change.
‘We called for an ambulance twice a few days ago, and both of the crews arrived two to three hours late. I am grateful to the doctor, Maia, who came and assisted us. However, the situation is impossible. This is a huge region and the ambulances are always busy. Sick people will either die or recover by the time they arrive’, Ms Shirinyan said.
There are two crews constantly working in the Akhalkalaki emergency department. Yerem Ezoyan, manager of the department, explains that he is well aware of the people’s complaints, but he cannot do anything about them as they cannot find doctors to work for them.
‘Two crews are too little for our municipality. People are forced to wait. Now, for instance, if a the third call comes in they will have to wait, as both crews are out. People curse us, quarrel with us, but we are not late, we just don’t have time.’ Ezoyan says.
He says that the salary offered (₾400–500) is too low, and that no one wants to work for this money. ‘If we find doctors, the Emergency Service at the Ministry of Health will allocate a third vehicle, so there will be a third crew’ he added.
There are seven doctors working in the Akhalkalaki emergency department. Eight doctors are required to properly operate two crews, meaning that doctors have to take additional overtime. Five of them come from Akhalkalaki and the other two from Aspindza. There are three open positions at the service right now.
Ezoryan says that last year, the emergency service had to halt services in Akhalkalaki due to a staff shortage.
The service receives around 20–23 calls a day, most redirected from calls to the national emergency number, 112, operated from Tbilisi. Since there are only two crews serving Akhalkalaki Municipality, which is too few for such a large region, crews are often called from Ninotsminda and sometimes from Aspindza.
There are two crews working at the Ninotsminda department as well.
‘We don’t have enough time, while there are fewer calls in Ninotsminda. So since the system is centralised, when our crews are busy, the Tbilisi emergency call service sends crews from Ninotsminda. They come almost every day. We have more calls than them and unless we have three crews working in our region, people have to wait’, Ezoyan added.
He also says that only one in ten calls require an ambulance to respond, with the rest being for non-emergencies.
‘They call and ask how long a patient will live, or for the address of a certain doctor. Some call if they have a toothache, or a temperature under 38°C, they call, and this is makes it impossible for us to be on time.’
The ambulance service is free to all. This service was extended in September 2016 to foreigners living in Georgia.