More calls to paramedic services in Waterloo region this year, report says

The Paramedics Services Performance Measurement report highlights many trends being faced by the service including high call volumes, continuation of offloading delays, and high ambulance unit utilization percentages.

Increase is being attributed to growing, aging population in Kitchener-Waterloo

A paramedic services report says the service has seen a large increase in call volumes, owing to an aging population. (Kate Bueckert/CBC)

Region of Waterloo Paramedic Services says they have seen more calls for ambulance services this year, compared to last year.

A report looking at the performance of paramedic services from January to June of this year found that paramedics responded to 24,608 calls, resulting in 28,942 vehicles going out to those calls. This is a 5.4 per cent increase in vehicle response from this time last year.

From January to June of this year, paramedics services also averaged more than 4,800 vehicle responses per month. Two of those months saw over 5,000 vehicle responses each.

The increase, according to the report, is being attributed to a growing population, as well as an aging population which needs the service more. 

"We're increasing anywhere from four to eight per cent per year," said Paramedic Services Chief Stephen Van Valkenburg. "The aging population uses more of our resources. They have a much higher consumption of resources as they grow older. So we are having to adjust to that." 

Offloading delays continue to slow down service

The report also highlighted that paramedic services in the region are losing ambulance days from offloading delays, but that the numbers are not as bad as last year's.

Between January and June of this year, 146.9 ambulance days were lost due to offloading delays, compared to the 157.7 days lost last year at this time. 

"We've been dealing with it for many years in the province and its getting worse and spreading further," he said of the delays.

Valkenburg told regional council during a meeting Tuesday that paramedic services is working with CEOs of local hospitals to find better ways to address the offloading delays. 

Regional Councillor Geoff Lorentz suggested finding alternative destinations for ambulances, to take the load off of hospitals. He says he wants to sit down with the MPPs to find a better solution for offloading. 

Valkenburg said that while changing destinations would be a positive notion for the service, changes to the Ambulance Act a couple of years ago means there is still work to be done in order to enable paramedics services transport patients to somewhere other than a hospital.

Coun. Tom Galloway said if hallway medicine was ever addressed, the offloading delays would be eliminated for the most part. 

"Our numbers are trending a little better, but not a lot better," said Galloway. 

Response times improving 

The report also highlighted that response times have improved from last year, stating that paramedic services in the region have responded 14 seconds faster. Valkenburg says most of the calls are occurring in urban areas and that's made it easier to get to the locations faster. 

"That's where the population density is and because we are so busy, most of our vehicles are in the core and we're getting to those calls quicker," said Valkenburg. 

Valkenburg also said that since the province has announced a funding freeze for paramedic services, but the organization is still being funded at 2018 levels, that there would be a $1.2 million cut in services. Council did approve two vehicles in their budget process for 2019, but reduced funding also mean cuts to education days for paramedics.

"We don't know where the funding freeze is going to end up because they haven't reissued funding letters yet from the government," Valkenburg said. "Hopefully there's some good news behind that story, but we don't know that yet."