Paramedic “staffing crisis” is parking ambulances – and putting Peterborough residents at risk, union says

“[We are] concerned that the community is at risk of calling 911 and not having an ambulance arrive on time,” CUPE 4911 stated in a press release last week.
An ambulance departs the Peterborough Regional Health Centre. Peterborough’s paramedic union says a “staffing crisis” is putting the community at risk. (Photo: Will Pearson)

With files from Brendan Burke, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter at the Peterborough Examiner.

Union leaders say a “staffing crisis” is leaving Peterborough with fewer ambulances to respond to emergencies and putting a heavy strain on paramedics.

In a news release last week, CUPE 4911 said some Peterborough ambulances are regularly sitting idle because there are not enough paramedics to staff them. 

“[We are] concerned that the community is at risk of calling 911 and not having an ambulance arrive on time — or at all,” the release said. The problem is being made worse by lengthy wait-times to transfer patients to hospital, according to the union. 

“This has led to fewer ambulances on the road than is required, and situations where paramedic crews are forced into overtime at the end of their shift, as they can’t leave the hospital without handing over care to the emergency room,” the release said. 

The situation is creating a “dangerous precedent for our community, leaving those in dire circumstances with longer wait times to be picked up and taken to a hospital,” according to the union.

Ambulances from Northumberland County and the City of Kawartha Lakes are frequently responding to calls in Peterborough city and county because of the ambulance shortage, the release said.

The shortage is particularly concerning over the summer when Peterborough county’s population swells from the arrival of cottagers, according to the union.

Natalie Waters, CUPE Local 4911 president and a front-line paramedic, noted that the problem isn’t unique to the Peterborough area.

“The paramedics sector across Ontario is facing a staffing crisis in health care,” Waters is quoted as saying in the release.

Waters called on Peterborough County-City Paramedic Services (PCCP) “to improve working conditions to make Peterborough a desirable destination for new recruits” amid the province-wide staffing shortfall. 

In an email, Peterborough’s deputy paramedic chief Craig Jones responded to the union’s call for action.

Jones agreed that Ontario is facing a “health-care crisis,” but said the issue extends beyond paramedics and staffing.

“The health-care system is experiencing issues on multiple levels,” Jones said. “Off-load delays, a shortage of healthcare professionals, a shortage of primary care professionals, and an increase in mental health-related illness and drug addiction, are all contributing factors in the healthcare crisis.”

“Staffing is just one piece of a very complex puzzle.”

Jones said the issue has been an ongoing concern for years that was made worse during the COVID-19 pandemic.

He said PCCP has made efforts to confront and address the problem.

“PCCP has added eight full-time paramedics and a new ambulance to enhance 24/7 coverage. The service has also added 16 paramedics in non-traditional roles to support 911 and emergency department use mitigation,” Jones said.

“We continue to work within the parameters of the operational restrictions placed on the service pursuant to the collective agreement and we are working with the union to try and alleviate some of those pressures and continue to put into place innovative measures to support the well-being of our staff.”

The union’s press release cites a recent report from Peterborough County staff on paramedic operations.

“Time spent at the hospital for our community’s urgent calls has increased from just over 33 minutes in 2020 to over 42 minutes in 2022,” states the release from CUPE Local 4911, adding that in 2021 call volumes surged by 12.8 per cent in Peterborough County.

Jones says that despite the provincewide challenges, “PCCP continues to meet or exceed its targeted response times and provide exemplary service to our community.”

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