The head of Hamilton’s Paramedic Service says the extra demands caused by COVID have strained his staff to the limit. Michael Sanderson says people making unnecessary calls for ambulance service are making matters worse. The department is embarking on a public education campaign to try to reduce the number of inappropriate calls for ambulance service. Sanderson stated in a report to council last week, “our paramedics, like all other health care providers, have been rising to the challenges of increasing demand, the risks of COVID, wearing of personal protective equipment, cleaning requirements, and of course the increasing offload delay
challenges. They have also been accepting extra responsibilities and tasks such as supporting
COVID Immunization clinics, COVID testing, homebound immunization, remote patient
monitoring, and a variety of other aspects all succeeding in the drive to reduce stress on the
broader health care system. Having been at it for the last 21 months now they are tired, many
to the point of exhaustion. They are stressed, some to the point of cumulative mental health
challenges. And they are anxious knowing that the pressures we are under are likely to
continue for at least the foreseeable future.
The report says that with retirements, job changes, disability and WSIB, it has been necessary to hire 49 new staff this year, One night last week due to staff shortages it was necessary to respond by shifting, moving staff from community support activities, having supervisors staff ambulances on overtime overnight, and extending shift overtime the department was able to cover 16 of the 21 normally staffed ambulances.
Sanderson predicts staffing challenges over the coming holidays and that will require pulling staff away from community support activities such as administering vaccinations.
The report says ambulance calls are averaging 28 more per day from pre-pandemic levels, to an average of 266 calls a day. In order to reduce inappropriate calls Sanderson listed examples of what constitutes a true emergency including,
• Appears to be having a stroke (think F-A-S-T: Facial droop, Arm weakness, Speech
difficulty, Time to call 911)
• Appears to be having a heart attack
• Has lost consciousness, is unresponsive, or is not responding appropriately
• Is having a seizure
• Is having shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
• Is bleeding uncontrollably
• Is having a severe allergic reaction
People not experiencing these symptoms should consider visiting a walk-in clinic or consulting a family physician.