Ambulance calls at an all-time high in Waterloo region

Ambulance calls are at an all-time high in the Region of Waterloo. A recently released year-end performance report shows there were 63,615 ambulance responses in 2021, up 10 per cent from 2020.

“Our call volumes are hitting record highs almost on a monthly basis,” said Stephen Van Valkenburg, chief of Region of Waterloo Paramedic Services. “What we don’t want to happen is not have an ambulance available to respond to a 9-1-1 call that comes in.”

Van Valkenburg said three staffed ambulances, working 12-hour shifts were added last year and another two were added this year, but staff are still often working overtime and/or without breaks or lunches.

Unit utilization keeps increasing and is at 42 per cent, which is above the target of 35 per cent, set by the Paramedic Services Master Plan, said Van Valkenburg.

“42 per cent is actually just a running total so an average, but we get peaks where we are at 50 or 60 maybe even 70 per cent utilization. Which is too high to sustain,” Van Valkenburg said.

The region is pointing to offload delays as one of the biggest challenges. Offload delays are when paramedics take a patient to the emergency room and are forced to stay with them until there’s a bed.

The Ontario Association of Paramedic Chiefs (OAPC) said the majority of paramedic services across the province are concerned about offload delays. The group said the wait can be far too long and ties up resources.

“Sometimes for an excess of 10 hours. That’s the time period from when they arrive at the hospital until the hospital is finally accepting the patient off of the ambulance stretcher,” said Michael Sanderson, Treasurer of the OAPC and co-chair of the Offload Delay Working Group.

Both the OAPC and Van Valkenburg said they are looking to the province for help. The Offload Delay Working Group is preparing a memo to the province in the coming weeks.

“This is a healthcare systemic issue that they need to fix. So the government needs to come to the table and fix [it],” said Van Valkenburg.

In an emailed statement the province acknowledged with increasing demands on the health care system, some patients may experience longer than more wait times to be transferred into hospital care.

“The Ministry of Health takes the issue of ambulance offload delays very seriously,” the statement said in part. “That’s why the Ministry has been holding numerous meetings with Ontario Health, paramedic services, hospital senior leadership, and other sector partners to support the development and implementation of solutions that address local AOT challenges and strengthen emergency care province-wide.

Van Valkenburg said additional resources may be requested in the 2023 budget but admitted it is too early to know what exactly will be needed.

Van Valkenburg will be presenting the 2021 Year End Performance Update to the region’s community services committee on Tuesday.

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