Adding 1 ambulance is not enough to help overworked paramedics, says union representative

The president of the paramedics' union said adding one ambulance is not enough to cope with the rising number of 911 calls in Waterloo region.

911 call volume in Waterloo region has increased by over 50 per cent in last decade

The Region of Waterloo Paramedic Services deployed a new ambulance early to address the high demand on service, but Luke McCann says that is not enough to help. (CBC)

The president of the paramedics' union said adding one ambulance is not enough to cope with the rising number of 911 calls in Waterloo region.

"Our call volume is growing four times faster than the rate of our population in Waterloo region, its no secret the service is operating at over capacity," said Luke McCann, advanced care paramedic and president of the union, in an interview Thursday morning.

"We know that we need more ambulances on the roads and that's plain and simple."

Region of Waterloo Paramedic Services Chief Steve Van Valkenburg told CBC K-W calls have increased substantially.

"When I came here almost five years ago, we were doing about 75 to 90 calls in a 24-hour period," Van Valkenburg told The Morning Edition host Craig Norris Tuesday.

"Now we're doing anywhere between 100 and 130 calls."

'A huge concern for us'

McCann said the spike in 911 calls is making it "hard to maintain the highest performance level that's required as a paramedic."

"Our paramedics are facing improper nutrition and rest periods, the exhaustion level has been showing at alarming levels," he said, referring to staff who are rushed from call to call.

"Our paramedics pushed to maximum threshold and that results in a significant impact to physical and mental wellbeing, and that's a huge concern for us."

On Tuesday, Van Valkenburg said a new ambulance would be deployed months ahead of schedule in an effort to deal with the demand — but McCann maintains it is not enough.

Playing catch up

​"The call volume increased by 50 per cent over the last decade, yet we've only added six ambulances and one emergency response unit in that decade," he said. 

"We need to be reactive and stop playing catch up. We're the lowest funded paramedic service in the province yet Waterloo region is the second fastest growing region in the province."

According to McCann's calculations, Waterloo region is short about five 24-hour ambulances and he expects it will get worse unless more measures are taken.

"Every year we are just going to continue to play catch up and as each year passes without putting the necessary resources in place we are just going to become worse and worse," he said.​

The bottom line

McCann said some people have blamed the recent flu outbreak, or offload delays — a delay in the transfer of care from ambulance to hospital —  for the demand and response issues, but he said there is more to the problem than one variable.

"We believe the increase in demand on our service —  people calling 911 —  is the reason we are experiencing poor response times and poor service delivery... there is more to it then pointing the finger at offload delays," he said.

McCann also expressed that he is not very hopeful about getting more resources.

"The major concern is the wellbeing of our paramedics, and also the public," he said.

"The bottom line is when a citizen calls for an ambulance, no matter where they live in the region they expect paramedics to show up in the driveway."