‘These are not easy days,’ Peel Region concerned about shortage of paramedics due to surge of COVID-19 cases
Published Wednesday, January 5, 2022 10:49AM EST
Last Updated Wednesday, January 5, 2022 9:13PM EST
Peel paramedics are concerned about a shortage of emergency personnel in the wake of record-breaking COVID-19 cases that are overwhelming the region’s health-care system.
Peel Regional Paramedic Services says it is experiencing staffing shortages as an increasing number of paramedics test positive for the coronavirus, or have to isolate at home due to an exposure.
“There have been times when a Code Black has been declared, which means there is 1 or fewer ambulances available,” Paramedic Chief Peter Dundas wrote in a statement to CP24 on Wednesday.
“Peel Regional Paramedic Services continues to put measures in place to address staff shortages. Some measures include expanding the use of rapid antigen testing, redeploying non-union paramedics, and expanding the ability to pick up additional overtime shifts,” he added.
Durham Region is also dealing with the impacts of staffing shortages as only two ambulances were available in the region for almost an hour on Tuesday afternoon, Troy Cheseboro, from the region’s health department, told CP24 on Wednesday.
Between 3:35 p.m. and 4:25 p.m., paramedics from York Region and Kawartha Lakes responded to two calls, as directed by an automatic system in Ontario that dispatches nearby paramedics to emergencies when there’s a local ambulance shortage.
Cheseboro said there are usually 30 ambulances available in Durham during that time period but 28 were stuck at hospitals dealing with “offload delay.”
Brampton Mayor Patrick Brown says he’s worried about the shortage of emergency personnel but is optimistic that the region will be able to efficiently manage the situation.
“I am concerned that we're seeing a shortage of not just paramedics but firefighters and police across the emergency services spectrum, we're seeing challenging staff levels. Having said that, Chief Dundas says that he can manage the staffing,” Brown said during a COVID-19 briefing on Wednesday.
“These are not easy days, they're unusual. But at this point our leadership believes that they can handle the challenges as they come,” he added.
Brown said the region is asking casual staff members to take on more hours to fill the void.
He added that paramedics aren't the only service dealing with a lack of workers right now.
“I know with the Peel police we have about 10 per cent of our officers that are also isolating or in quarantine. We have more firefighters off than ever before because they’ve fallen sick too,” Brown said.
Dr. Naveed Mohammad, president and CEO of William Osler Health System, which oversees the operations of Brampton Civic Hospital and Etobicoke General Hospital, is asking residents who need non-urgent medical assistance to bring themselves to the hospital.
“We will encourage people that don't need an ambulance and can be ambulatory to drive themselves to the hospital. But if you have something such as chest pain or stroke symptoms or something more significant, it's better to wait in one place and have the paramedics get to you,” Mohammad said at the briefing.
He added that emergency personnel from all services, including police and fire services, will help with responding to 911 calls.
“Our paramedic partners can work with other jurisdictions to get some assistance and also work with our firefighter partners and our police partners. So, we will get through this together but we don't want patients to take it upon themselves,” he said.
Mike Merriman, the paramedic unit chair for CUPE Local 416, said the situation in Toronto is in “no better shape,” with calls being held for hours and crews travelling from one end of the city to the other.
He shared that on Tuesday, a Toronto paramedics crew was dispatched to Oshawa while a York Region ambulance drove from Markham to Courtice to service a call as Durham paramedics could not attend.
“The entire paramedic service is on the verge of collapse as the entire GTA is running on empty,” Merriman said, adding that he has been warning officials about the staffing problem for years.
“Paramedic services throughout the GTA are on life support. Toronto could barely keep up with the calls pre-COVID, let alone now due to bare-bones staffing.”