Greater Sudbury paramedics continue to play the waiting game at the hospital’s emergency room, because there are no empty beds for the patients in their care.

When an ambulance arrives at the hospital, paramedics have to stay with their patients until a bed opens up.

The longer they wait, the fewer ambulances there are to respond to 9-1-1 calls.

Last year, about 4,000 ambulance patients had to wait more than 10 minutes to get into the Sudbury emergency room.

Joseph Nicholls, deputy chief of emergency services, said there have been some improvements in Sudbury — but it's still an issue.

"In the last year, [wait times] have not been going up at the rate that they have in previous years," he said.

ALC patients still occupying emergency beds

According to the hospital’s chief of staff, Sudbury’s new one-site hospital emergency room is better equipped to handle ambulance traffic.

But Chris Bourdon said there are still delays off-loading patients because the hospital is still caring for so-called Alternate Level of Care patients (ALC).

Those are people who don't need to be in the hospital — but require medical care that they can't get elsewhere.

 "If we decompress some of the ALC patients by a third, a half or two thirds, we would never have a delay in offloading an ambulance," he said.

Contingency plans at the ready

According to Nicholls, there are contingency plans for days when too many ambulances are parked at the hospital and not able to respond to calls.

But city councillor Andre Rivest said that is of little comfort.

"Thank goodness 2011 seems to be better, but if [the problem] keeps increasing, we may not even have ambulances to respond," he said.

"I believe that's called 'Code Zero'."

Code Zero is a term used by emergency service workers when there is only one transport ambulance — or none at all — available to respond to emergency calls.