Paramedic Frenzy in Toronto

Code Red! and a Shortage of Ambulances

By: Moses Lai and Sai Sharma

There is a shortage of ambulances in Toronto, and the city isn’t well prepared for disasters or emergencies. On October 30th, 2023, the paramedic union of the city shared a post on social media to alert Torontonians about the lack of ambulances. The situation was dubbed as Code Red on twitter by the union.

The surrounding services are also not in a position to send their ambulances to Toronto. The city has also asked other municipalities for help.

This is the first time that the city of Toronto has had to ask for help from bordering municipalities. There are at least 50 calls for ambulance on queue, according to a spokesperson for the union that represents the city’s paramedics. Even though the calls weren’t life threatening, the people were left with no choice but to wait. According to the spokesperson, a woman in her 80s who had fell and apparently fractured her arm was left waiting on the ground for hours.

But what is the root cause here?

A major problem is the growth of management ranks. This is at the expense of the frontline workers. For example, the management has recently made 25 paramedics on the road as acting supervisors. This is a primary reason for the shortage of paramedics in the city. Some paramedics are even exhausted and quitting their jobs.

To ensure that paramedics are available for the elderly and people with emergencies, the public can consider other alternatives. These include calling 811, talking to a pharmacist or simply going to a walk in clinic.

This is becoming a daily reality of people in Toronto. The current wait time for ambulances in the city is 30 minutes and around 14 minutes for life-threatening injuries, according to the Toronto paramedics annual reports. During busier periods, paramedics respond to calls they deem to  have higher priority. According to data, the ambulance services have faced the Code Red situations 1,139 times in the year 2021. Even the emergency rooms are full. Therefore people in ambulance vehicles cannot offload and are stuck waiting for treatment. This is the nightmarish reality that the public of Toronto is facing. The offload delays by the ambulances are also a factor in the shortage of paramedics in the city, as pointed out by Mayor Olivia Chow.

“Since approximately 15 years ago, the service of Toronto Paramedics did not hired above attrition. In that period of time, the call volume increase around 45% increase in call volume without an increase availability of paramedics to treat the patients.” Charles Labelle, a member of Toronto paramedics union who has been a paramedic for 17 years, said.

The province has invested about 9 million dollars to Toronto Paramedic Services. The province is even ready to increase the budget of any paramedic service if required.

Aside from the hospital delays, there is a major staffing issue in the services. There just isn’t enough staff that is required to attend daily calls.

More staffing is needed in the service. Situations of unavailable ambulances are arising almost daily in the city and this calls for action. It is going to be a major problem if a mass casualty incident takes place in the city and there are no paramedics to cater to them during that time.

“The problem is that it leaves no room for emergency. If something catastrophic should happened which happened quite a lot in Toronto (Danforth shooting in 2018), we were able to service that emergency, but we won’t be able to service in other emergency” Labelle said.

The Toronto paramedics is running a paramedics demand’s projection in a lean format, which means the number of paramedics eqaul the number of projected called in a year, but that has a fundamental and problematic flaw.

Massive decrease in application of paramedics in the GTA

As the demand for paramedics grow, new recruitments for the city’s paramedics has not meet the hiring targets.

“Before the application outnumbered the sport available by 40. Now, there’s not enough applicant for the spot” A Toronto paramedic, who wants to remain anoymonous said.

One of the major reason is that the workload has increase massively as the city populations grow exponentially. A Toronto paramdecis occasionally has to work up to 16 hours a day, he said in the interview. It’s now getting more common where more paramedics relocate outside of the GTA with less emergency call and better work condition.

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