Niagara EMS went 9 straight hours without any available ambulances


Published January 27, 2022 at 12:23 pm

For the major portion of last Friday (January 21), Niagara Region EMS went nine straight hours without an available ambulance – a frightening situation called a “Code Zero” in the business.

“On Friday last week, we were in Code Zero for nine consecutive hours. For nine hours, there was no one available to respond to people in our communities requiring emergency medical care. This is unacceptable,” said Jon Brunarski, an active paramedic and president of CUPE 911.

“We immediately need more full-time staff and more ambulances to respond to 911 calls.”

He added the staffing crisis has worsened during the ongoing Omicron wave and requires immediate attention as critical ambulance shortages grow.

Back in October – two months before Omicron – a staff survey showed 93 per cent of CUPE 911 members didn’t believe they had enough staff to meet rising demand.

Brunarski said that due to the staffing shortage, Niagara EMS has resorted to sending taxis to “low-acuity” (less life threatened) patients to get them to hospitals when they need the expertise of paramedics to deal with their ailment.

Even though the region just hired 37 part-time paramedics, it’s not sufficient to handle the current level of call volumes when more full-time staff are needed, said Brunarski, who added he believes the service management has been prioritizing cost measures over workers and patients alike.

“This is not just the result of COVID-19 but a crisis long in the making. Niagara EMS has not made significant investments in staffing or ambulances in the last decade,” Brunarski said.

“At the same time, our population has grown and aged, so workloads have been increasing. Paramedics are routinely denied breaks at work, and more and more of us are getting injured or just simply burning out.”

Paramedic unions across Canada have been echoing Brunarski’s concerns for months now, even years. Most claim that while they were short-staffed prior to the pandemic, the current situation has stretched them beyond their limits.

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