Paramedics waiting at least three hours to transfer some patients at Ottawa hospitals, officials say

Ontario paramedics say they are dealing with a health care crisis because of emergency room closures and health care staff shortages, creating a perfect storm for ambulance delays and roadblocks for timely access to care.

It means the public may have to wait longer for an ambulance in Ottawa.

“We now know that nine times out of ten, when paramedics take you to a hospital in Ottawa, it takes at least three hours to transfer care from paramedics to the hospital,” said Michael Nolan, County of Renfrew Paramedic Service Chief. 

Offload delays are up significantly and Chief Nolan says it means paramedics respond to fewer calls.

“When you go to a shift that’s say 12 hours and you can only help three or four patients during that shift, because it takes three or four hours for each call,” said Nolan.

He says the off-load delays are leading to major delays on the job, including more “Level Zero” incidents. That is where there are no available ambulances to respond to calls.

“It truly is a health care crisis,” said Nolan.

The Ontario Paramedic Association says the situation has been daunting for paramedics. 

“We have seen an increase in level zeros in the last year, with a 200 per cent increase,” said Daryl Wilton of the Ontario Paramedic Association.

The Ontario Paramedic Association says there’s a number of factors behind the crisis, including the fact that more people are calling 911, more are accessing hospital emergency rooms, and there’s been hospital department closures as well as fewer health care staff on the job.

On July 21, the off-load delay for paramedics to transfer a patient into the care of staff at an Ottawa hospital emergency room was more than three hours for approximately 30 patients, according to the Ottawa Paramedic Service.

“Overall, yes the situation is getting worse,” said Pierre Poirier, Ottawa Paramedic Service Chief. 

Ottawa paramedics have hired 28 paramedics this year. Poirier says 16 of those have gone through training and will be on the road over the next couple of weeks.

“We are not happy,” said Wilton. “People are taking it out on paramedics and they’re expressing their frustrations with the delays.”

In a statement to the Canadian Press, the Ontario Health Minister, Sylvia Jones, said that the province has added more than 10,500 health care workers to the system since the start of the pandemic. The Ministry of Health said the government’s most recent budget included $7 million in additional funding for a program that brings health care workers to help transfer ambulance patients to hospital care. The budget was presented in April but did not pass before the election.

With files from The Canadian Press

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