COVID, understaffing making it difficult for EMS to meet response time targets, says chief
Report to go to Essex County council Wednesday
The chief of Windsor-Essex EMS is presenting a report Wednesday to the County of Essex council about response times for ambulances in the region.
Right now, emergency response isn't meeting its targets, and in some cases has fallen below them for the first time in years.
Problems related to the pandemic are the main reasons behind the drop in the proportion of calls meeting the target times.
"COVID and the collateral damage of COVID has had within the entire health-care system," Windsor-Essex EMS Chief Bruce Krauter said.
"Our offload delays right now from May, when the community started to open up from lockdown and where hospitals started opening up services, whether it be surgeries, whether it be health-care checks or assessments have gone through the roof."
Those offload delays cause particularly acute problems because of how much time they can take.
"We have offload delays right now that are sitting at three, four or five hours, six hours, eight hours. And the reason is the hospitals don't have the room or capacity to offload my ambulances," he said.
"That creates a struggle because if I can't offload them, I can't get them back on the street to respond. And that does impact these response times standards."
Krauter said the stress the pandemic has put on the health-care system, and understaffing for health-care positions throughout the region and the province, is creating the conditions that lead to an inability to meet targets consistently.
The Canadian Triage Acuity Scale groups patients based on their priority of need, and targets are set based on the amount of time it takes to respond to certain levels of priority.
For example, the highest priority, sudden cardiac arrest, has a target response time that is six minutes. That means an emergency responder — fire department or ambulance — has a defibrillator at the patient's side within six minutes.
Some of the targets are legislated by the province, others are set by the council — which is one of the purposes of presenting the report Wednesday.
"We're legislated under the Ambulance Act and specifically Regulation 257 to report our response times standards and also the performance of the previous year's performance and what the plan is going forward," Krauter said.
"Meaning what are we doing with our targets? Do they remain the same? Do we change them?"
Problem seen elsewhere
CBC Windsor spoke to Clearwater, B.C., Mayor Merlin Blackwell, about problems in his area when it comes to emergency response times.
"At this point, with the world we're living in, if they can tread water on response times, that could be considered a success with some of the things we're dealing with," he said.
"But it all comes down where you're living and what does that response time mean in actual care."
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With files from Jacob Barker