Hamilton paramedics are overwhelmed, code zero incidents have already tripled in the past year

The number of code zeros, those times when there is only one ambulance – or even zero – out of the service’s entire fleet available for a call in Hamilton, has more than tripled this year.

These events are known as code or level zero or code black, and Hamilton has seen 334 of them so far this year, compared to just 97 in 2021.

« We’re almost going to be operating at a third-world level of ambulance service, I hate to say it, » said Mario Posteraro, president of OPSEU Local 256 (Brant County).

As of Oct. 26, based on data CBC received from Hamilton’s chief director of paramedic services, Michael Sanderson, the number of code zeros has risen steadily throughout the year, with at least one nearly every week since April.

There were 24 code zero incidents in the week of October 10-16 alone.

On October 12, an ambulance – from Orangeville, Ontario. in Dufferin County – had to respond to a call from Dundas, Ontario. in Hamilton, about an hour’s drive away.

Bottlenecks for hospitalized patients

The data indicates that the backlog is largely the result of staffing shortages at local hospitals and insufficient hospital beds. These create long wait and offload times for paramedics.

In cases where there are no nurses available in a hospital or bed space, paramedics must stay with the patient until a nurse is available, resulting in hours of wasted time. being unloaded instead of being on the road again.

According to data from Sanderson, an average of 775 hours were lost discharging patients each week in 2022 due to hospital delays. During the week of October 10, there were approximately 1,257 hours wasted waiting for hospital staff.

Posteraro says there has been an increase in calls for situations that may seem urgent, but do not require an ambulance.

« The main problem is that we don’t have enough ambulances to meet the demand for medical assistance and given the increasing demands for services, we don’t have enough ambulances on the road, » he says. .

The Hamilton Paramedic Service’s 2021 annual report lists the top two ambulance calls involving fall injuries and shortness of breath, each accounting for 14% of medical responses.

Posteraro suggests that one solution to the bottleneck in hospitals is for people to educate themselves and better understand when an incident requires a trip to the emergency room and when to go to an urgent care center.

It also suggests that the hospital administration should prioritize emergency room beds. « They’ll have to find a way because that’s where the blockage happens, » he said.

Request more resources

Posteraro says another solution is to lobby the government for more help. He says ‘we (the union) are continually lobbying councilors to provide additional resources in view of the increased call volumes’.

He says ‘there has been chronic underfunding of our ambulance service over the last 20 years and this is the end result’.

Mayor Fred Eisenberger said he is aware of the current challenges faced by hospital staff, including meeting the provincial government’s policy standard for welcoming patients.

He says he asked the Ministry of Health:

  • Take the necessary measures to enforce this provincial standard and, in cases where it is not met, put in place a mechanism so that 100% of the cost of providing the service is transferred to the municipality through a year-end settlement process.

  • Modify the land ambulance funding process so that the province uses the current year’s board-approved operating budget and not previous years.


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