'Code black' incident in Essex County prompts worries about ambulance response times

The fact that ambulances from Chatham-Kent were briefly called in to help deal with situations in Essex County earlier this week is causing concerns with the union representing EMS workers as well as some residents in the area.

EMS chief says issue was resolved in two to three minutes

George Vieira is concerned about how a code black could affect his 87-year-old father (Jacob Barker/CBC)

Ambulances from Chatham-Kent were briefly called in to help deal with situations in Essex County earlier this week, and that is causing concerns with the union representing EMS workers as well as some residents in the area.

 "I don't want to see my father end up in worse shape because he couldn't get EMS to attend within a reasonable period of time," George Vieira said.

His father underwent surgery on Wednesday. He says one concern following the procedure is that there could be arterial bleeding and was told to call 911 if anything were to go wrong. Vieira said he is concerned if something happened late at night and an ambulance had to be called from Chatham-Kent to Harrow, where his father lives.

"If we call 911, like we're told to do, or there's no ambulance in Essex County that's available to assist him, how is he going to get any help before he bleeds out?" Vieira said.

Essex-Windsor EMS chief Bruce Krauter. (CBC)

As a retired police officer, Vieira said he's familiar with responding at high speeds to calls that are far away.

"If somebody needs emergency care in for example Harrow or Colchester or Amherstburg and an ambulance has to come from Chatham-Kent, there's no way that ambulance is going to arrive in Harrow no sooner than 40 minutes," he said.

Bruce Krauter, the chief of Essex-Windsor EMS, said that the recent code black happened at 10 p.m. and lasted about two to three minutes. Code black refers to instances when there are no ambulances available to respond.

While Chatham-Kent services began to answer calls in Essex County, they were called off and Essex-Windsor ambulances were able to attend. 

He said that when the code black was called, patients were cleared from emergency room floors to their rooms "to open up capacity within the emergency department so we could offload," he said.

He said there were close to 16 offload delays at all three local hospitals that lasted multiple hours.

"That's a clear indication that the hospitals are full, that hospitals are not moving patients," Krauter said.

"If they can't move patients and we constantly bring patients into the hospital, we cannot unload them and that's when we get into an offload delay situation and ultimately we get into a code black."

Not a new phenomenon

James Jovanovic, president of CUPE 2974, which represents EMS workers, says that issues with offloading delays are no new phenomenon.

"Those issues with the hospitals have been around since I've been a paramedic and that's going on 13 years and they were here long before that," he said.

James Jovanovic is president of CUPE 2974, which represents Essex-Windsor EMS workers. (Jacob Barker/CBC)

He says the shortages can be pinned on a realignment of services in May where ambulances were moved from the night shift to the day shift. 

"This led to increased burnout, increased ability for people to take overtime, decreased availability of staff on nights and we went in to this perpetual cycle of then further reducing trucks and decreasing our staffing levels," Jovanovic said.

Krauter did say there was a shift in scheduling and that it does contribute to code black situations.

"In a very miniscule way," Krauter said. "The piece that is really, really pushing on the code blacks is the hospital capacities."  


Jacob Barker


Jacob Barker is a videojournalist for CBC Windsor.


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