Eastern Ontario paramedics pressure province to help with city ambulance shortage

Five paramedic services spoke to Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care officials over the phone earlier today and warned that the current system is about to break.

'Worst-case scenario, someone is going to die,' says Prescott-Russell paramedic chief

Paramedics drop off a patient at the Ottawa Hospital's Civic campus on Dec. 19, 2016. (Ashley Burke/CBC News)

Eastern Ontario paramedics are urging the province to find an immediate, if short-term, solution to an Ottawa ambulance shortage that some are calling a crisis.

Five paramedic services from municipalities adjacent to Ottawa spoke with Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care officials over the phone Tuesday. They complained that a daily shortage of ambulances in Ottawa has forced their own paramedics to pick up the slack at unprecedented levels.

We're in dire straits … Something's going to break.- Michel  Chrétien ,  Prescott-Russell's  Director of Emergency Services

And, said paramedics, they told officials it'll be the province's responsibility if there are no ambulances available in the counties during a life-threatening emergency.

Michel Chrétien, Prescott-Russell's director of emergency services, was part of the teleconference. Asked what his message was to the province, Chrétien said, "We can't wait anymore. You need to step up."

He also said the paramedic situation in Eastern Ontario is "past a crisis … We're in dire straits. We can't continue both operationally and financially. Something's going to break."
Michel Chrétien is the emergency services director of the United Counties of Prescott and Russell. (Submitted)

The municipalities went to the city of Ottawa to find a solution in July, but say they got nowhere. So they took the matter to the province today and made it clear today the matter is urgent.

Chrétien fears his paramedics will be tied up on a call in Ottawa and won't be able to respond to a life-or-death emergency in Prescott-Russell in time. 

"Either someone is going to get badly hurt, or, worst-case scenario, someone is going to die," he said. "We're going to be pointing fingers to the ministry and the City of Ottawa that, 'We told you so.'"

City also spoke with province

Ottawa paramedics also spoke with provincial health officials Tuesday. According to an email attributed to acting paramedic chief Peter Kelly, the "discussions are ongoing at this point."

The email added that information shared with the province is confidential at this time. 

The five municipalities asked the province to change the type of 911 calls they are dispatched to in the city of Ottawa. 

I feel as though the urgency of the situation is not being taken seriously.- Mike Nolan, chief of County of Renfrew Paramedic Service

Rural paramedics argue they are spending too much time on calls in Ottawa that are not considered life-threatening. For example, someone experiencing dizziness or who has a broken bone, said Mike Nolan, chief of the County of Renfrew Paramedic Service. 

"The current definition of what's an emergency is frankly too broad," said Nolan. 
Renfrew County paramedics are one of the five municipal paramedic services in talks with the province about fixing an ambulance 'crisis' in Ottawa. (Ashley Burke/CBC News)

Nolan and others ultimately want a dispatch system similar to the one in Toronto and Niagara, which asks more specific questions to narrow down the type of emergency. But until that happens they want the province to change the definition of a "code four" call — the type that rural services have to help answer — to include only serious emergencies such as cardiac arrest, unconsciousness or choking. 

According to an emailed statement from Ministry of Health spokesman David Jensen, provincial officials are "actively engaged" in finding a solution that gets ambulances to all patients "in a timely fashion."

"I feel as though the urgency of the situation is not being taken seriously," Nolan said after Tuesday's conference call. "We worry over the holidays and the winter months that the already-stretched resources will put the community at risk."