In the News May 24
Ontario Election 2022
Paramedics Demand Human-Centred Investments to Address Health Care Crisis
Emergency paramedics who respond to 911 calls and transport patients to hospitals are speaking out about their experiences and those of patients and putting forward human-centred solutions to the increasingly serious problems facing the integrated health care system.
Over and above the necessity for increased funding to hire more staff, both paramedics and dispatchers, and to expand the service to meet the needs of the population, they point out that a major need is for government to invest in community health to reduce the demand for emergency medical care, including mental health and addictions support, family doctors and affordable housing.
Nicole Runge, vice president of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Local 5911 in Kenora, said in a press release issued by the union on May 19, “We respond to calls from patients who absolutely need to get to the hospital ER [Emergency Room]. We also respond to 911 calls because people require services that are overburdened or unavailable in the north. Often when more appropriate services are unavailable, 911 is activated to deal with the incident resulting in the individual being transported to the hospital, leading to offload delays and overburdening of the ER department.” This is a problem not just in the north but throughout the province.
When paramedics take patients to hospitals they are often stranded there, unable to hand over care of their patient to the hospital staff because the hospital itself is overloaded or due to a shortage of nurses. For as long as it takes to hand over the patient the ambulance paramedics are not available to answer other 911 calls. This situation, they point out, “is a direct result of the provincial government’s drastic cuts to hospital capacity over the past three decades. Currently, Ontario has the least number of hospital beds per capita across Canada, with no plans by the current Conservative government for significant expansion.”
In 1990 there were 4.8 hospital beds per 1,000 people in Ontario, in 2021, only 2.2 beds per 1,000 people. To cope, they say, “hospitals have become accustomed to discharging patients ‘quicker and sicker’ into the community,” and still the hospitals are overcrowded.
In response to a CUPE survey in 2021, 41 per cent of paramedics reported that they experienced Code Blacks (no ambulance available to respond to 911 calls) daily with another 24 per cent reporting Code Blacks a few times a week. On top of that, while call volumes are increasing ambulances are often taken off the road due to understaffing as regional services are unable to recruit and retain enough paramedics. This in turn increases the workload of paramedics leading to increased injuries. In the 2021 survey 83 per cent of paramedics reported that their workload is harming their physical and/or mental health and 91 per cent said that there are not enough staff to keep up with demand, creating a vicious cycle of overtime, missed work breaks and burnout.
The pandemic brought to the forefront the consequences of the neo-liberal anti-social cuts, privatization and repeated reorganization of the health care system but this has not resulted in any change on the part of the government to abandon its reckless course of funding one pay-the-rich scheme after another while refusing to invest in health care.
During the election Ontario’s paramedics, along with health care workers in hospitals, community and long-term care are raising the issue of the need for human-centred solutions to the crisis in health care and calling on everyone for support. For more information and to sign a petition to the government click here.
Ontario Political Forum, posted May 24, 2022.