Ottawa asks Ontario government for help to clear emergency room backlogs for paramedics

Ottawa’s mayor is asking Ontario’s minister of health to take action to clear emergency room backlogs so the city’s paramedics can return to service faster. 

Mayor Jim Watson and Coun. Matthew Luloff have sent a letter to Health Minister Christine Elliott asking for a “coordinated and innovated approach” to solving paramedic offload delay issues in Ottawa hospitals.

“We are asking you to lead the coordination of stakeholders, including local hospitals, to implement additional strategies to improve offload performance and, at a minimum, meet the benchmark for transfer of care at 30 minutes at the 90th percentile,” said the letter released on Friday afternoon.

The letter comes after the Ottawa Paramedic Service experienced several “Level Zero” instances during the Christmas holidays as COVID-19 cases increased and hospitals dealt with staff shortages.

The Ottawa Paramedic Service experienced 750 “Level Zero” instances in 2021, meaning there was a critical shortage of ambulances available within the Ottawa Paramedic Service to answer calls.

Watson and Luloff says every day Ottawa paramedics are delayed by area hospitals in transferring the care of patients from paramedics to hospital staff.

“This longstanding issue has only been exacerbated by COVID,” said the letter. “Hospital offload delay has a significant impact on the Ottawa Paramedic Service’s ability to respond to calls and comply with legislated response time standards.”

The letter acknowledges the Ministry of Health has made efforts recently to increase hospital capacity.

“However, Ottawa is looking for long-term, sustainable solutions to address the chronic and systemic issue of offload delay in our city. It is also important that the additional hospital capacity be directed to efforts to improve offload delays.”

The 2021 budget included hiring 14 new paramedics, and 14 new paramedics are part of the 2022 city of Ottawa budget.

“Despite these investments, the Ottawa Paramedic Service is unable to improve service coverage as paramedics are stuck in emergency departments due to offload delays,” said Watson and Luloff.

The Ottawa Paramedic Service has implemented several initiatives to proactively relieve pressure on the broader healthcare system and assist hospitals, including paramedicine programs.

Last month, the Queensway Carleton Hospital and Ottawa Paramedics launched a new initiative to mitigate offload delays and to enhance the level of service.  An Ottawa paramedic will be stationed in the Queensway Carleton Hospital emergency department every evening, where they will monitor up to three patients during their shift so paramedics can return to service.

Watson and Luloff say the city of Ottawa is “seeking” Elliott’s leadership to tackle a “coordinated and innovated approach to this persistent bottleneck in our health care system.”

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