Hastings-Quinte paramedic service falling short of response time targets

Hastings-Quinte Paramedic Services is struggling to meet its response time targets amid a spike in emergency calls and offload delays at hospital, according to a new report.

Chief points to surge in emergency calls, off-load delays at hospitals

The chief of Hastings-Quinte Paramedic Services says response times across the board rose an average of one to two minutes over the past five years. (Frederic Pepin/CBC)

Hastings-Quinte Paramedic Services (HQPS) is struggling to meet its response time targets amid a spike in emergency calls and offload delays at hospital, according to a new report.

The situation is especially stark in Prince Edward County, where data from last year shows the service failed to meet four of six standards.

"The results are concerning for the health and well-being of our residents," wrote Prince Edward County Mayor Steve Ferguson in a statement to CBC.

Response times were included as part of a year-end report presented to the Hastings-Quinte Emergency Services Committee on Wednesday.

"Response times across the board are up on average one to two minutes over the past five years," HQPS Chief Carl Bowker said.

"The challenges are simple. The solutions a lot more complex."

The report describes the past two years as "extremely difficult."

It shows Hastings-Quinte paramedics spent 2,752 hours in off-load delays last year — a 300 per cent increase over 2021.

Call volumes and demand for ambulances also surged to 41,660, a 10 per cent increase for the second straight year.

"While ambulance staffing hours were increased, our service was frequently unable to maintain the full complement of ambulance hours," the report reads. 

"These staffing challenges, combined with offload delays and increased call volumes has led to increased response times throughout most municipalities."

4 of 6 targets missed

Similar issues have been reported across the province, including in Ottawa where the paramedic service saw an "unprecedented" number of level zero incidents last year — meaning no ambulances were available to be dispatched.

Data shared during the meeting showed HQPS largely met or exceeded its targets in Hastings County, but in Prince Edward County the situation was very different.

For example, the service set a goal of having a defibrillator at the scene of a cardiac arrest within six minutes, 35 per cent the time. However, the results show that target was never hit.

The service also failed to meet its response times for the three most urgent levels on the Canadian triage acuity scale or CTAS.

The service failed to hit four of six response time targets for Prince Edward County in 2022. ( Frederic Pepin/CBC)

Bowker told the committee the cardiac arrest target was "really challenging" to hit during a year when paramedics were required to don PPE before treating a patient.

He noted the response time target is not based on when an ambulance arrives at the scene, but the time it takes to get a defibrillator to a patient.

The report also points to the Prince Edward County's "large geographic area" as a factor in falling short of its standards.

In an interview with CBC, Bowker said the service has been moving ambulances around to try to meet the need, comparing it to a "shell game."

The chief added while he's not sounding alarm bells, there are indications of "declining performance" that need to be addressed.

"When you have gaps, there are potentially calls out there that might be time sensitive that we're not going to get to in a timely manner. So it certainly increases the risk."

Chief says 'difficult decisions' coming

Centre Hastings Mayor Tom Deline asked HQPS to report back by mid-summer about the potential costs or savings of adding more paramedics to help hit the targets.

"Hopefully the feds and the province are going to get off their butts and get something going here for some money," he said.

Bowker told the committee that despite the challenges, paramedics stepped up and worked extra shifts to serve the community.

HQPS is also working on innovative solutions and is hoping to secure more provincial funding for offload nurses to get paramedics back on the road, he said.

"Ultimately, we're at a crossroads," he told the metting. "Some difficult decisions will need to be made as municipalities struggle with budgets this year."


Dan Taekema


Dan Taekema is CBC’s reporter covering Kingston, Ont. and the surrounding area. He’s worked in newsrooms in Chatham, Windsor, Hamilton, Toronto and Ottawa. You can reach him by emailing