Air ambulance paramedic describes 'overwhelming' conditions

An Ottawa paramedic with Ornge air ambulance says unprecedented demand to transfer patients with COVID-19 to different hospitals is creating "overwhelming" work conditions.  

Transfer of COVID-19 patients between regions creating unprecedented demand

Ornge transferred an unprecedented 80 patients last Thursday. According to one critical-care paramedic, it's been a demanding job as of late. (The Canadian Press)

An Ottawa paramedic with Ornge air ambulance says the unprecedented demand to transfer patients with COVID-19 to different hospitals is creating "overwhelming" working conditions for staff. 

"There [are] days where you're in a small room in a corner and you're crying because it got really real or it got close to home," Natalie Lavergne, a paramedic with Ornge, a non-profit organization providing land and air ambulance service in Ontario.

"There's other days where someone you thought was never going to pull through pulls through," she said on CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning on Tuesday. 

    As of Tuesday, 875 people with COVID-19-related illnesses were being treated in Ontario's ICUs, with 589 of those requiring a ventilator. Most patients are being transferred from the Greater Toronto Area to hospitals with ICU capacity, including hospitals in Ottawa.

    Last Thursday, Ornge transferred an unprecedented 80 patients between Ontario hospitals.

    Transfers without consent hard to stomach

    One of the hardest parts of the job, however, has been removing people from their support network, away from their friends, families and communities without consent, Lavergne said. 

    Ontario's health agency issued an emergency order allowing such transfers in early April.

    "They haven't had the time … to really spend time with their loved one," she said. "As we're loading ambulances to leave, we're finding family members lined up on the sidewalk, shouting goodbyes and taking photos — trying to catch a glimpse of their mom or their dad." 

    Ontario ambulance service sees more demand as COVID-19 patients transferred to other hospitals

    1 year ago
    Duration 1:19
    Ornge, Ontario’s land and air ambulance service, says it’s seeing unprecedented demand due to a large number of COVID-19 patients being transferred to less-busy hospitals. Video footage supplied by Ornge.

    It's one more challenge families face, something Lavergne tries not to think about, fearing it will crush her. 

    Ornge's helicopters have been flying more in recent weeks, she said, travelling longer distances between hospitals. 

    "As you can imagine, the long transport times, more than three or four hours, we start to run into considerable logistics issues with patients that are so sick, so unstable and require such high amounts of oxygen."

    She said people in the medical world try to keep hope alive, letting other health-care workers know that the person they treated weeks ago is now recovering.

    "I am not sure how everyone seems to keep finding staff and vehicles and time, but every day they ask for more and every day we manage, so far, to be able to accommodate," she said. 

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