'Code Zero' events in Hamilton way down in 2020 even as paramedics battled pandemic: Report

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A new report shows that the Hamilton Paramedic Service (HPS) saw fewer code zero events in 2020 than they have since 2012 and the length of these events have shortened significantly.

According to the service's annual report that was presented to Hamilton's Emergency and Community Services Committee at their meeting on Thursday (June 17), there were 27 code zero events in 2020, lasting an average of 55 minutes, down from 80 in 2019 which lasted an average of 58 minutes.

"Code Zero events occur when the number of ambulances available to respond to a call is limited to just one or none," the report explains.

"When a code zero event occurs, ambulances from neighbouring municipalities are assigned to respond to emergency calls in Hamilton."

HPS has seen a steady decline in the number of code zero events since 2012 and 2013 when the number was 194 and 242 respectively.

The improvement is a result of several factors, most notably the addition of a fully-staffed ambulance to the service in April 2020 that operates 24/7.

Also, hospital offload delays (the time it takes for the care of a patient to be transferred from paramedics to the hospital) saw a slight decrease. Lengthy offload times have contributed to code zero events in the past.

There were fewer calls for service during the spring of 2020, the report said, which contributed to decreasing offload times, but things started picking up again by the end of May.

"While we had a decrease in code zero events in 2020, offload delays continued to be a challenge in the latter part of the year," said Chief Michael Sanderson in a statement contained in the report.

"In addition, the extra work to don appropriate PPE and deep clean equipment increased time spent on each call. Even so, we still met and exceeded response time targets."

When it came to the pandemic response, paramedics have played a significant role in caring for and treating Hamiltonians via mobile COVID assessment units and, most recently, in helping to administer vaccines to priority populations.

HPS also assisted in evacuating two congregate settings coping with devastating outbreaks and helped to bring more than 100 people out of those situations to hospitals in partnership with Hamiton's Public Health Service.

In total, in 2020 paramedics performed 84,731 responses to 67,864 events and transported 48,412 patients, an average of 132 patients per day, the report concluded.

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