By Chris Jones/The Oshawa Express
The president of Durham’s paramedic union is calling for an end to offload delays in Durham hospitals.
Kristie Osmond-Jones, president of CUPE 1764 has told The Oshawa Express offload delays, when paramedics are forced to wait to take patients from their ambulances into the hospital, are a significant concern.
“It is a very common, very pervasive problem,” she says. “There are multiple instances that have gone on to social media in the last year or so… it is a chronic problem.”
She says a delay can last for hours, but patients who are more in need, such as those who suffer a heart attack, are “triaged as appropriate.”
Osmond-Jones says it isn’t a problem just in Durham Region, but across Ontario.
“It’s all due to the lack of infrastructure that’s in place to expedite that issue,” she explains.
What this comes down to, according to Osmond-Jones, is a lack of funding, as she adds Durham Region’s paramedics are “woefully underfunded.”
“The funding hasn’t kept up with population growth,” she says. “What it comes down to is ‘What can be done about this?’”
She says from the union’s perspective, residents in Durham need to “make their voices heard.”
“[Residents] need to be talking to their MPPs, they need to be talking to Minister of Health [Christine Elliott], and they need to be making it plain that they’re not in support of the lack of funding,” she says.
She also notes people need to educate themselves and vote for politicians who “are on the side of public services.”
“If the residents of Durham Region want public services, they want healthcare, education, and just generally enjoying the public services that they have, they need to stop voting against their interests,” she says.
For Osmond-Jones, what the province needs to do is to look at statistics, as well as what works and what doesn’t work.
“What doesn’t work is asking for more with less,” she says.
She says she doesn’t know if the Region of Durham would necessarily agree, but “the fact of the matter is, we are underfunded.”
Troy Cheseboro, chief of Durham Paramedic Services, says the region received $475,222 from the province to address offload delays in 2019.
This is the same level of funding for several years now, he adds.
Cheseboro says when paramedics are in an offload delay situation, patients who meet certain requirements will be admitted to hospital, and placed on an “offload” bed.
A nurse, hired by the hospital, will then treat the patient, allowing the paramedics to leave.
The hospitals will then bill Paramedic Services.
However, when all the offload beds are full, Cheseboro said this is when a “bottleneck” of ambulances begins.
To him, the main problem is hospitals “just don’t have the capacity” they used to.
He says offload delays have become a greater concern particularly in the past five years, although there’s been some improvement.
“Our numbers are slightly down, but absolutely offload delay is a concern,” the chief said.
A report from January 2020 shared with The Express by Osmond-Jones notes call volumes in Durham are up in Durham Region.
“Durham Region Paramedics responded to 86,408 emergency calls last year. Call volume has risen, on average, seven per cent per year over the last five years and has increased a total of 42 per cent since… 2014,” reads the report.
The report also notes, over the same period of time, total vehicle hours of service have increased seven per cent, and total paramedic hours of service have increased 12 per cent.
CUPE 1764 officials claim this places a 30 per cent shortfall compared to the increased workload for front-line paramedics.
The report notes there is often one or no ambulances available to respond to calls, as paramedics are all already occupied with other incidents.
“[It is] a concerning situation whereby 683,600 residents over 2,523 square kilometers are left without an available paramedic transport unit,” the report states.
“It’s problematic to the Region of Durham when someone calls for an ambulance and there’s none available at that time because they’re all tied up,” she says.
Osmond-Jones stresses if residents want to see these changes made, they need to engage with their local politicians.
“When you spread the service thin, response times are automatically going to be effected,” she says.
Cheseboro says response times are tracked by the province’s central ambulance command centre, although he also monitors the amount of available vehicles on a regular basis.
He disputes there are often zero or only one ambulances available in the region.
“I don’t think the frequency of those situations where we’re down to one or zero is a high number. I would say it’s a very, very low timeframe,” he said.
In an e-mail to The Express, Lakeridge Health spokesperson Sharon Navarro wrote the safety of patients is a priority for the hospital team.
“Like other Ontario hospitals, Lakeridge Health has occasional challenges related to ambulance offload delays, particularly during the flu surge season,” she writes.
She notes Lakeridge has implemented multiple strategies to ease offload delays at their two largest emergency departments – Oshawa Hospital, and Ajax-Pickering Hospital.
Two such strategies include renovating a dedicated ambulance offload space at the Oshawa Hospital, and the implementation of a nurse offload program, where nurses can tend to patients in the offload area as soon as they arrive.
These two strategies will allow “paramedics to get back on the road faster,” according to Navarro.