Hospital bed shortages delayed Los Angeles Fire Department ambulance crews nearly 37,000 hours last year, costing the city about $6 million, according to a report presented to the Fire Commission.
Ambulance crews aim to spend no more than 20 minutes dropping patients off at hospitals, but often must wait longer due to a lack of beds, fire officials said.
The number of hours wasted in 2013 -- 36,627 -- is equivalent to parking four or more ambulances at one hospital every day, they said.
Often called "wall-time," the delays -- a common problem at many fire departments across the state -- prevent ambulances from responding to other 911 calls, according to a staff report.
The Los Angeles Fire Department, which delivers patients to 57 hospitals throughout the region, has dealt with the issue with "various levels of success'' over the past decade, according to the report, but last year's figures indicated that overcrowding at hospitals has intensified.
The number of hours ambulance crews were delayed went up almost 30 percent from 2012 to 2013, even as the number of ambulance transports and medical emergencies inched up by a little less than 2 percent.
Officials estimate last year's delays -- based on a $165-an-hour rate for department ambulances -- cost the city $6 million.
In recent months, the fire department has met with hospital officials in an effort reduce the delays. Fire officials are also part of a coalition, which includes the California EMS Authority and the California Hospital Association, that is working to come up with solutions.
The coalition is expected to release in the coming months a "resource tool kit" to aid hospitals and ambulances in cutting wait times, fire officials said.
Fire department staff also reported that they are working to reduce the number of "super-user" patients who request emergency medical services more than most.
In 2013, 20 patients contacted the department a total of 2,049 times and were transported 1,375 times, fire officials said.
Fire officials said they are exploring options such as staffing dispatch centers with nurses to help resolve medical issues over the phone, rather than by sending out ambulances.