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Ottawa paramedics improved response times in 2017: report

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. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Chartrand

After failing two years in a row to meet Ottawa City Council’s approved standard for responding to life-threatening emergencies, the Ottawa Paramedic Service has reported it achieved better results in 2017.

The city of Ottawa asks paramedic resources to be on scene with a patient within eight minutes of receiving a call about a life-threatening emergency — the response time enforced by the province — 75 per cent of the time.

In a report submitted to city council on Thursday, paramedics said they met that response time 77.3 per cent of the time last year, up from 73.2 per cent in 2016, and 72.5 per cent in 2015.

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The paramedic service’s annual report highlifhted an “overall improvement” in performance last year, saying it met all response time performance targets established by city council.

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It chalked up those results to increased investments by the city in recent years for extra full-time staff, plus the use of a number of mitigation strategies — including a provincially-funded program that allows paramedics to transfer a patient’s care to a designated “off-load nurse” in a hospital emergency department.

The report noted the Ottawa Paramedic Service gained 26,369 hours thanks to that program.

While it still exceeded the municipality’s benchmark for response times to calls related to sudden cardiac arrest, the service’s performance there dipped slightly in 2017 to 68.2 per cent, down from 69.3 per cent in 2016.

The report also showed performance declines for processing calls related to life-threatening situations and sudden cardiac arrest within two minutes since 2014-2015. Paramedics, however, are still meeting the respective benchmarks for those calls.

Demands on Ottawa paramedics increasing over time

The report noted there were 139,514 demands for paramedic services last year — a 1.1 per cent increase from 2016. Officials refer to this as “response volume,” which is calculated based on the “number of paramedic resources required to respond” to a call for help, according to the document.

Due to a number of factors — including amalgamation, population growth and an aging demographic — the response volume for Ottawa’s paramedics has increased every year over the past 15 years, the report said. The increase in demand over the last five years alone was 16.9 per cent.

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Officials said the continuous increase in response volume has “recently begun to outpace current staffing levels and vehicle availability,” adding that Ottawa paramedics also respond to calls outside of city boundaries.

The service has been given funding to hire another 14 full-time paramedics in 2018.

The annual report also noted the headquarters of the Ottawa Paramedic Service “has reached its maximum capacity related to vehicle deployments and staffing,” which is being reviewed.

“The Service has initiated a review for the build of an Annex facility in order to meet city-wide growth demands,” the report said.