Nfld. & Labrador

Overflowing ERs causing problems for paramedics, says ambulance company owner

In his more than 30 years working in emergency medical services, Smith's Ambulance Services owner Wade Smith says he has never seen things this bad before.

Paramedics are in short supply across the province, says Wade Smith

Wade Smith, owner of Smith's Ambulance Services, says in his 30 years in the industry current emergency room wait times are the worst he's ever seen. (Jeremy Eaton/CBC)

Long emergency room wait times at hospitals in St. John's aren't just affecting patients, doctors and nurses — they're also affecting paramedics, says the owner of an ambulance company.

Wade Smith, owner of Smith's Ambulance Services in Whitbourne, told CBC News he's seeing a backlog of eight to 10 stretchers in emergency room hallways some days, with no patient privacy. 

In his more than 30 years working in emergency medical services, he said, he has never seen things this bad before.

"Our paramedics are there from eight to nine hours standing up, no place to sit down, no place to eat," Smith said. 

As soon as that wait ends, he said, they often end up on another call and back in the emergency room waiting another six to eight hours, he said. "It's really taking a toll on the staff," he said.

His paramedics are having neck and back problems from all the waiting, he said, and the patients they are tending to are also suffering. One person, said Smith, was a cardiac patient and showing symptoms that could have been COVID-19. Smith said that patient waited in the back of an ambulance for six hours waiting to get a bed inside the hospital. 

Smith says paramedics sometimes wait eight to nine hours to offload patients at emergency rooms in St. John's. (Paul Daly/CBC)

The adult emergency departments at both the Health Sciences Centre and St. Clare's Mercy Hospital are operating at a 100 per cent occupancy rate of late, and at times exceeding that, Eastern Health's chief of staff told CBC News earlier this week. Dr. Doug Drover said the backlog and bottlenecking is a complex problem, but due in part to a shortage of nurses.

Smith said paramedics are also in short supply in Newfoundland and Labrador. 

A long drive

Another problem Smith faces is the location of his business. The long hours offloading at the emergency departments in St. John's have meant there are no ambulances available to service his home base in the Whitbourne area at times.

"We've been doing that now for the last couple of months. Ever since the second lockdown, up to four to six hours for long periods of time," said Smith. 

"We don't have the resources like the hospital-based [paramedics] do, and I know they're struggling as well."

Without proper response from the provincial government stepping in to help alleviate the issue, said Smith, he's worried about the future for first responders. He said there are close to 200 paramedic positions available in the province, and recruitment is a struggle. 

"I'm fearful we're going to get a call one of these days and not be able to respond to a motor vehicle accident, because we cover the highway, or to some other tragic event and it's just going to be sad," he said. 

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from Jeremy Eaton

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