14 paramedics will be hired this year to support increased demand on the paramedic service.
These new hires follow 24 paramedics brought on in 2017. Since 2016, new recruits have cost the city an additional 13 per cent in salaries, according to an analysis of budget information the City of Ottawa has made available online.
Darryl Wilton, president of the Ottawa Paramedic Association, isn’t convinced this hiring strategy goes far enough.
“Those 24 paramedics and the 14 added this year, we know they’re not enough, because we can trend our increase in call volume,” Wilton said. “It is mathematically not enough paramedics to keep pace with call volume.”
Wilton estimates that the paramedic service responded to roughly 140,000 calls in 2017. The five-year trend demonstrates a 17 per cent increase in calls, according to an analysis of the Ottawa Paramedic Service 2016 annual report.
Marc-Antoine Deschamps, paramedic superintendent, expects demand on the paramedic service will continue to rise.
“Ottawa’s a growing city, there’s more and more population,” Deschamps said. “They’re aging, they get sicker, and they require more and more of our services. That’s a pressure that’s being felt across our entire healthcare system.”
“If our call volume keeps increasing, we’ll need more paramedics to keep up,” Deschamps added.
Provincial and council approved mandates require that paramedics respond to life-threatening calls within 8 minutes, 75 per cent of the time. This target has not been met since 2015, according to a 2016 report.
Although the paramedic service hasn’t officially reported their response time figures for 2017, Coun. Riley Brockington, vice-chair of the City of Ottawa Community and Protective Service Committee, said mid-year reports suggested the 24 additional paramedics were having an “immediate impact” on response times.
“We have seen a direct correlation between investments in more staff and ambulance vehicles and their ability to get to people quickly,” Coun. Brockington said.
Coun. Brockington, who is an economist, acknowledges the possibility that factors other than the 24 new hires could explain the anecdotal reduction in response times. For example, weather or traffic changes could have helped ambulances get to their destinations faster.
“I think it’s fair to say that [it] is a reasonable conclusion,” he rationalised. “I point to other services across the province where there was an investment in staff and the response times almost immediately improved.”
Changes to another key metric are less encouraging. According to Coun. Brockington, the city ran out of ambulances 290 times in 2017, almost a daily occurrence. A “level zero,” is called when no ambulances are available to respond to a 911 call. Level zero alerts increased 13% since 2016, despite 24 new paramedic hires. There were 256 level zero alerts in 2016.
Coun. Brockington clarified that code zero emergencies are a complicated metric that can’t be addressed through hiring alone. Instead, ambulance availability depends on the length of time it takes hospital emergency rooms to see patients – a figure largely outside of paramedic control.
“Until a nurse or doctor takes the patient, the paramedic has to stay there. Some are there for hours. When we have our paramedics waiting with patients in urgent care facilities or hospitals, there are times when there are no available ambulances.”
When asked what kind of investment would guarantee demand be met, Darryl Wilton replied, “Definitely more than what you’re seeing on the docket. Definitely more than 14.”
“I think what’s important is that we clearly indicate need, and then it becomes council’s decision as to whether or not they’re going to fund that need,” Wilton said.
Hiring for the new recruits has already begun. Deschamps expects the 14 new paramedics to hit the streets in July.