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Ottawa mayor asks province to fund 42 new paramedics to address hospital offload delays

Jim Watson wants additional paramedics hired to be rotated through the local emergency wards, to both take pressure of nurses, and allow ambulances to get back out on calls faster.
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Ottawa Paramedic Services ambulance. (Photo/Dani-Elle Dubé)

Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson has written to the Ontario government to request funding for 42 new paramedics. 

In a letter addressed to Premier Doug Ford and Health Minister Sylvia Jones, Mayor Watson said the additional paramedics are needed to offload ambulance delays at local hospitals. 

"I am writing today to seek your leadership to reduce these increasingly frequent delays and 'Level Zero" situations,' Watson said. 
Watson goes on to say offload delays are a significant contributor to incidences of 'Level Zero,' which he says jeopardizes public safety. "We've seen about a 20 per cent increase in 'Level Zero,' Watson told The Rob Snow Show with guest host Derick Fage on Aug. 19. "That's when an ambulance and paramedics are not available." 

Watson said there have been 1,125 incidents of 'Level Zero' in 2022, adding it's a huge public health issue.

"When you call 9-1-1, you expect an ambulance there," said Mayor Watson. "If someone's suffering, whether it's heart attack or some other illness -- an ailment -- you expect them there at a reasonable time."

Also, Watson said, the problem has a trickle-down effect across the local healthcare system. 

"If you go by the Civic or the General or the Monfort, you'll see upwards of 10 or 15 ambulances parked in the parking lot," he said. "They're just stuck there because they can't get them processed through the hospital system."

Watson said the backups are costing an enormous amount of money and putting the people of Ottawa at risk, because there aren't enough ambulances out on the road to take the next call.

Watson believes the provincial government can resolve the long-standing issue by prioritizing efficient taxpayer spending, and recognizing that offload delays are a public safety risk.  

"The province and municipalities pay for paramedics to be assisting residents needing urgent medical attention," Watson's letter stated. "They do not pay, nor do they want, paramedics to perform hallway medicine in hospital emergency rooms."

He said the province needs to send a strong message to hospitals that offload delays are not acceptable and encourage them to work collaboratively to find innovative solutions.

Watson told CityNews Ottawa he has spoken to the presidents of Ottawa's hospitals, who have presented a letter of proposal on how to resolve the backlog in local emergency rooms, which again, is exacerbating ambulance offload delays. 

"They've came forward, I thought, with a reasonable proposal," Watson said. "The province has provided some funding for off-load nurses at the emergency ward. That was supposed to, in theory, allow the ambulance to come in, drop the person off to the off-load nurse, then they could get back out with their stretcher and all their equipment and go back on another call."

However, Watson said the issue is that while nurses have done a great job, they have to leave the emergency department (ER) when there is a pressure in another part of the hospital.

"Those nurses leave and then we're back to the same situation," Watson said. "So by hiring more paramedics, that in essence would be rotated through the emergency wards, they're not going to be called to another part of the hospital. They don't have that expertise. They'll be able to stay with upwards of four patients, monitor them, so that the other three ambulances can actually go out and take more calls."

Watson has told the Ontario government he has the hospital sector's full commitment to the proposed approach, and he attached detailed information and a clear commitment to the strategy in his letter to Ford and Jones. 

You can read Watson's full letter to the province here

You can listen to Watson full comments with Derick Fage on The Rob Snow Show below.

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