Advertisement

Code zero: Increasing off-load times idle paramedics

Article content

A paramedic crew recently spent the bulk of a 12-hour shift at Brantford General Hospital waiting for a patient to be admitted.

Advertisement

Story continues below

Article content

The paramedics were relieved by a second crew that had to take a cab to BGH and then spend another two hours with the patient.

For the entire time, the paramedics were not available to respond to other emergencies. And, although the time span of more than 10 hours is exceptional, Russ King, chief of Brant-Brantford Paramedics, said the incident that happened about 1 1/2 weeks ago shows how emergency services are being affected by population growth and the easing of COVID-19 restrictions.

“Our off-load delays have increased from 35 minutes per patient in 2020 to 49 minutes per patient,” King said. “But that’s on average.

“Some patients get off-loaded immediately but others remain with paramedics for quite some time.”

Off-load delay refers to the amount of time it takes to transfer the responsibility for the care of a patient from the paramedics to the hospital.

Paramedics must remain with the patient until the hospital takes over care and, during that time, they are unavailable for other emergencies. When multiple ambulances are either at the hospital or responding to an emergency, the paramedic service could reach “code zero,” meaning no local ambulances are available to respond to an emergency.

So far this year, the paramedic service has hit “code zero” 585 times and was forced to call in help from other jurisdictions, including Oxford County, Six Nations of the Grand River, Hamilton and even Waterloo. Meantime, Brant-Brantford paramedics have been called to help other municipalities 262 times.

Advertisement

Story continues below

Article content

King said he doesn’t want to alarm people but some critical calls have seen significant response delays when an outside service had to be called in to help, which can add anywhere from 10 to 20 minutes to a call.

He noted officials at the Brant Community Healthcare System, which operates BGH, are doing their best to provide residents with emergency care.

“No one could have envisioned the impact of post-COVID-19 life.”

King noted that some people, fearful of contacting COVID-19, didn’t seek assistance for medical conditions for the past 18 months. In many cases, their conditions worsened and now they are often faced with an emergency, he said.

Prior to the pandemic, paramedics responded to about 25,000 calls a year. That dropped to about 23,000 a year during the height of the pandemic in 2020 but has since returned to pre-pandemic levels and beyond.

The paramedic services is adding another vehicle for 12 hours a day for the next two to three months to help with the call volume.

“It’s hard on paramedics to be stuck at the hospital and hear a call about a choking child or someone collapsing in the mall and not being able to do anything,” King said. “Paramedics feel like they’re an extension of the ER department.”

The situation has become so dire the paramedic service and healthcare system officials last week issued a joint statement reminding people they have treatment options.

Residents in need of non-emergency medical help can call Telehealth Ontario toll free at 1-866-797-0000 or TTY at 1-866-797-0007.

Advertisement

Story continues below

Article content

As well, residents can visit walk-in clinics. To find a walk-in clinic visit: www.hnhbhealthline.ca/listservicesdetailed.aspx?id=10072®ion=Brant .

Residents looking for a family doctor can visit: www.bchsys.org/en/patients-and-visitors/finding-a-doctor.aspx.

Meanwhile, healthcare system officials say they have taken steps to alleviate the off-load problem in the emergency department.

“We have established a working group with representatives from the Brant-Brantford paramedic service and Six Nations ambulance service to explore the issue, understand the drivers and determine how best to address the issues and improve the off-load times,” said Martin Ruaux,  vice-president of clinical services and chief nursing executive. “We are implementing a number of actionable strategies to help alleviate identifiable issues, with high importance given to supporting patient care needs, work flow within the department, and determining how to best improve EMS off-load times.”

Strategies include optimizing staffing roles and positions to support emergency services off-load and adding staffing roles in the emergency department to assist with patient flow. As well, the healthcare system is implementing an emergency services dashboard, which will tell how many ambulances are available in Brantford-Brant at any given time.

Ruaux said the healthcare system is also reviewing off-load protocols.

“We are working with our healthcare partners to address the patient demand and capacity challenges on the healthcare system to ensure timely access to emergency care services,” he said. “We are working diligently to address ambulance off-load issues in the emergency room department.”

Vball@postmedia.com

twitter.com/EXPVBall

Latest National Stories

Advertisement

Story continues below

News Near Brantford

This Week in Flyers