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Hamilton paramedics boss says ambulance offload delays on course for record high in 2022

Hamilton's EMS boss says the city has had close to 200 'code zero' events so far in 2022 –more than double the tally for all of 2021. Global News

Hamilton’s paramedics chief says the current rate of offload delays at local hospitals is “too high” and expects the service will surpass last year’s record numbers for wait times.

EMS Services chief Michael Sanderson told 900 CHML’s Good Morning Hamilton that at the current rate, paramedics will likely spend over 38,000 hours in a hallway waiting to drop off patients at packed emergency rooms (ER) across the city, passing a record of 32,000 hours set for all of 2021.

“Within the city, we’re at 23,000 hours, year to date so far, and I’m projecting at the current rate, about 38,000,” Sanderson said.

Read more: Ontario paramedics say ambulance response times slower due to growing offload delays

“So they have gone up probably about 15 or 20 per cent. Those are numbers that are way, way too high.”

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Last year’s backlog caused 97 “code zero” incidents, where no ambulances were available to respond to emergencies.

Sanderson says the city has seen 196 “code zero” events so far this year, already more than double the tally from all of last year.

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He says the ripple effect is a slowing of response times for emergency calls dealing with life-threatening situations, such as heart attacks, strokes and major trauma.

It causes further delays for “less critical” accidents as well, like broken bones and fractured hips.

Last month, the president of the Ontario Paramedic Association (OPA) said offload delays in the province had gotten 12 times longer in 2022 than compared with 2021.

Darryl Wilton said the delays have reached a level he has never seen before in his 25 years on the job, with wait times of between 10 to 15 hours reported in some regions.

“A patient could be picked up this afternoon and not be offloaded until sometime tomorrow morning, and that’s not unusual anymore,” he said.

Sanderson says most hospitals across the province are doing “relatively well” and are below the 30-minute standard for off-loading.

However, he says in Hamilton, there were occasions in June when local hospitals experienced “significant delays” with some dropoffs over the 30-minute transport time set by the Ministry of Health’s standard of care.

Read more: Ford won’t commit to repeal wage cap to address ER nurse staffing shortages

During a stop in Stratford, Ont., Wednesday, Premier Doug Ford said the province is doing everything it can to add more health-care workers to the system.

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Despite several Ontario emergency rooms closing for hours, and even days, in recent weeks due to staff shortages, Ford insisted nine out of 10 patients are going into emergency departments and “getting taken care of.”

“I’m the first to admit … getting there … more things can be done,” Ford said.

“We’re throwing everything and the kitchen sink at this, and we’re going to continue doing that to make sure that we have the proper health care that people require.”

In mid-July, both of Hamilton’s two hospital networks reported continued service delays, revealing that staffing shortages are plaguing the system amid a seventh wave of COVID-19, which arrived earlier than expected.

In a joint release, Hamilton Health Sciences (HHS) and St. Joseph’s Healthcare suggested the public should seek alternate healthcare options rather than a stop at hospital, if not an emergency.

An HHS spokesperson told Global News the hospital has one of the highest number of patients arriving by ambulance in Ontario, about a third of its total patients checking in.

“On average, more than 36 per cent of patients arrived by ambulance each month in 2022 as compared to 33 per cent in 2019,” HHS’ Wendy Stewart said in a email.

The combined surgical backlog for the two Hamilton hospitals is about 12,000 cases with no projected timeline for resuming service at pre-pandemic levels.

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Ford said the government has set a target of hiring 5,000 more nurses and attempting to speed up accreditation for internationally trained nurses to restore timely care and surgeries back to pre-pandemic levels.

Read more: Ongoing worker shortage means long wait times for service at Hamilton hospitals, say officials

Sanderson says the problem is system-wide and extends not just to emergency departments but to the flow of patients coming in and out of hospitals in general.

“There have been some band-aid solutions on it and I’m not sure we can solve it immediately today,” he said.

“We need to have some really good, strong direction and mandates to the hospitals provincially … that the 30-minute offload target needs to be enforced.”

with files from the Canadian Press

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