Hospital cuts force paramedics to cool their heels in ERs

A new report from Niagara EMS suggests that hospital cutbacks, including the closure of two hospital Emergency Rooms in Fort Erie and Port Colbourne, has resulted in longer "offload delays" for paramedics, as they wait to transfer their patients to hospital staff at the remaining three ERs in the area.

In fact, the offload delays are projected to increase 68% in 2010, reaching 10,000 unit hours for paramedics.

Since the restructuring of hospital ERs last year and the resulting increase in patient arrivals by ambulance to the three remaining ERs, "off-load delays have increased significantly and have now surpassed the previous peak of 7,075 unit hours set in 2008."

Niagara Falls Liberal MPP Kim Craitor said he had heard ambulance off-load delays are increasing and he's concerned about the situation. "I don't disagree with anything they say in that report."  Without sufficient beds to move patients into, the problem will not be resolved, he added.  "Unless they have enough beds, it isn't going to work."

Anne Atkinson, vice-president of patient services with the NHS, said NHS officials meet regularly with EMS staff to discuss off-load delay matters.  She said the report was "no surprise" to the NHS.

The longer paramedics wait for the hospital to take the patient, the less time they're able to respond to other calls in the community.

"Paramedics are trained for quick intervention with patients — to treat them at a scene and get them to the proper place to receive the care they need," Kevin Smith, associate director and deputy chief of EMS, said Wednesday. "They are not trained, necessarily, to provide long-term, ongoing care."

While the provincial government hospital cuts have increased offload delay, the regional municipal government is on the hook for the increased paramedic costs.

Long offload delays also raise the possibility of delays in ambulance response time.  Ambulance response times were used by one municipal candidate in Toronto to call for a greater role for the fire department. 

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