Am­bu­lances in short sup­ply more of­ten

‘It paints a grim pic­ture,’ says pres­i­dent of OPSEU lo­cal

The Hamilton Spectator - - FRONT PAGE - JOANNA FRKETICH

The num­ber of times Hamil­ton has one or no am­bu­lances left to re­spond to emer­gency calls is rapidly ris­ing.

Known as a code zero, this alarm­ing short­age has hap­pened 71 times so far in 2017.

It means Hamil­ton has seen four times the num­ber of code zero events com­pared with this time last year.

In fact, by June the num­ber of code zero events in 2017 had al­ready by­passed last year’s to­tal.

It’s sig­nif­i­cant be­cause it raises con­cern about Hamil­ton Para­medic Ser­vice’s ca­pac­ity to re­spond to emer­gency calls.

“It paints a grim pic­ture,” said Mario Poster­aro, pres­i­dent of On­tario Pub­lic Ser­vice Em­ploy­ees Union Lo­cal 256.

Typ­i­cally, busy months for code zero

events are in the last quar­ter of the year when flu sea­son starts, so the worst short­ages in 2017 might be still to come.

“At this point in the year, we have ex­pe­ri­enced 11 more code zero events than we did in the en­tire year of 2016,” said Michael San­der­son, chief of Hamil­ton Para­medic Ser­vice. “The fre­quency has in­creased over the past two years, which is con­cern­ing.”

San­der­son points to hos­pi­tal over­crowd­ing as the main cul­prit.

Hamil­ton Health Sciences was at 110 per cent oc­cu­pancy on Tues­day and has av­er­aged 105 per cent since Oc­to­ber.

St. Joseph’s Healthcare is op­er­at­ing 25 un­funded beds a day on av­er­age while Ju­ravin­ski and Hamil­ton Gen­eral hos­pi­tals are at a com­bined 80 to 100.

“The fre­quency of code zero events is di­rectly re­lated to days where we ex­pe­ri­ence a high num­ber of long off­load de­lays at hos­pi­tal,” said San­der­son.

Off-load de­lays oc­cur when am­bu­lances are stuck at hos­pi­tals while paramedics wait — some­times hours — for emer­gency de­part­ment staff to take over care of the pa­tient.

“There is a lack of bed ca­pac­ity in the emer­gency de­part­ment,” said Poster­aro. “It is caused by a lack of bed ca­pac­ity in the wards. That is caused by a lack of ca­pac­ity in longterm care. It is a cas­cade.”

Nearly one in four beds was taken up by pa­tients ready to be dis­charged at St. Joseph’s hos­pi­tal dur­ing the week of July 10. But they were stuck wait­ing for other ser­vices such as home care and long-term care. Nearly one in five beds is cur­rently blocked at HHS. There is a con­cern the sit­u­a­tion will de­te­ri­o­rate fur­ther as HHS cuts $20 mil­lion and St. Joseph’s finds $7 mil­lion in sav­ings to bal­ance their bud­gets by the end of the fis­cal year March 31.

At HHS, the cuts are ex­pected to af­fect 69.37 full-time equiv­a­lent po­si­tions (FTEP) or 85 peo­ple.

That is on top of the 90.3 FTEP po­si­tions cut last year, which af­fected 122 peo­ple.

“It’s ob­vi­ously go­ing to make mat­ters worse,” said Poster­aro. “News of the cut­backs is bad news for the mu­nic­i­pal­ity, paramedics and pa­tients.”

Code zero events are not yet near the peak of 242 in 2013. The num­ber of times there were too few am­bu­lances on the road dropped steadily to 44 in 2015, as a num­ber of strate­gies were put in place.

But it is ris­ing again. The first seven months of 2017 al­ready had 60 per cent more code zero events than 2015’s year-long to­tal.

The union pre­dicts that will con­tinue to climb with the steady growth in the num­ber of calls to 911 that re­quire an am­bu­lance.

Paramedics re­sponded to more than 79,000 calls in 2016, a jump of 7 per cent over the prior year and a cu­mu­la­tive in­crease of 35 per cent over the past seven years.

If the growth con­tin­ues, it will mean an ad­di­tional 22,000 am­bu­lance calls over the next five years.

“De­mo­graph­ics point to an in­creas­ing call vol­ume,” said Poster­aro. “The bot­tom line is the de­mands for med­i­cal as­sis­tance are out­pac­ing our abil­ity.”

News of the cut­backs is bad news for the mu­nic­i­pal­ity, paramedics and pa­tients. MARIO POSTER­ARO LO­CAL 256 PRES­I­DENT

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