Core drains paramedic resources

Rachael Raven, Centretown News

Rachael Raven, Centretown News

Two paramedics perform their routine ambulance supply check at the Ottawa Ambulance Depot before going on duty.

The downtown area, including Centretown, is the biggest source of life-threatening calls for Ottawa paramedics.

But the area, which is served by three hospitals, is less affected by a paramedics’ staff shortage compared with other parts of the city, says Darryl Wilton the president of the Professional Paramedic Association of Ottawa.

“We recognize Centretown as the hole in the bathtub, it sucks all the resources,” he says.

Anthony Di Monte, chief of Ottawa paramedics, says one quarter of the life threatening- calls come from downtown after the presentation of a report to the community and protective services committee at the City Hall last week.

“But the people in the Centretown area are actually lucky,” Wilton says. Paramedics can answer faster to life-threatening calls in Centretown compared to the rest of the city.

The area is surrounded by three hospitals so paramedics who drop patients off in one of the hospitals can quickly answer other life-threatening calls.

The dispatch software used by the city calculates the location of paramedics in Ottawa and sends them to areas where they are needed most. Because of the high volumes of calls, more units are sent to Centretown.

 “The area located between Bronson Avenue and Elgin Street and south of Wellington and north of the 417 highway has a high volume of calls. The Byward Market is a main source of life-threatening phone calls too,” says Wilton.

Centretown also has a number of people in retirement and nursing homes; people who are likely to use the emergency services. “They often can’t stay home alone and they usually have very severe medical conditions and that keeps us very busy,” Wilton says.

But the report presented to the city committee shows it generally takes too long for the city’s paramedics to answer life-threatening calls. In the last four months, emergency workers did not have enough units to dispatch almost every day.

Ottawa needs to hire 145 more paramedics over the next three years say Steve Kanellakos, deputy city manager for community and protective services and the Ottawa Paramedic Service chief. It would cost $5 million.

The report also notes that Ottawa does not meet its own requirements, adding that the city “is in danger to not meet the less stringent provincial response time.

Ottawa’s response times must be under eight minutes and 59 seconds, in high-density areas and 15 minutes and 59 seconds in low-density areas 90 per cent of the time.

Between January and June 2008, Ottawa paramedics did not meet these requirements 40 per cent of the time in high-density areas such as Centretown and 35 per cent of the time in less crowded areas. On average, it took paramedics almost 14 minutes to answer life-threatening calls in high-density areas and more than 21 minutes in low-density areas.

Ottawa may also need to switch to a more effective dispatch system similar to those used in Toronto and Niagara.

Wilton, Di Monte and Kanellakos say they all advocate the switch to the new system, but so far they are been unsuccesful. “It all comes back to the Ministry of Health, says Wilton. They are not fetching and nobody can understand why, this system has been recognized to be better everywhere. It’s really frustrating.”