Hospital overcrowding: no ambulances for emergencies in Waterloo

What next?

Waterloo Region Emergency Medical Services (EMS) will tell Waterloo Council today that ambulance "off-load delays" at hospitals have resulted in periods where not one ambulance is available for emergency calls.  This has happened between 6 and 17 times a month since July, with these 'code reds' lasting between 14 and 26 minutes.
The complete absence of ambulances is a 'first' according to the Waterloo Record.
Some first.
Worse, the EMS Director reports that the situation worsened in January and February: "The situation is deteriorating."

The problem has to do with hospital overcrowding.  As in many other parts of the province, EMS paramedics must wait hours to discharge their patients to the Region's three hospital Emergency Rooms.  The Emergency Rooms are often backed up because they cannot find hospital beds for their patients.
Last year, this  resulted in 5,790 lost ambulance hours in Waterloo, the equivalent of having one ambulance sit idle round-the-clock for 241 days.  The Waterloo Record reports that while the number of off-load delays grew by 6.8 per cent in 2010, the number of lost ambulance hours grew by 20 per cent.  This increase occurred despite having nurses care exclusively for ambulance patients at the two Kitchener hospitals.

The EMS crisis in Ontario helped force the reversal of health care cuts in the past.  The tragic death of 18 year old Joshua Fleuelling (whose ambulance was turned away from an overflowing ER) created huge public concern.  That, as much as any other single event, likely played a role in getting a Conservative government strongly committed to hospital cuts to significantly increase hospital funding.  


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