Hospital cuts = Ambulance delays = Extra municipal costs

The City of Hamilton has doled out another $833,000 for more ambulances and paramedics to deal with a chronic ambulance shortage on the streets.

EMS response times have crept up to almost a minute and a half over the provincial standard.  "Code zeroes" (when there is no ambulance available to respond to a 911 call) are on track to record annual levels, with over 100 so far this year.

The ambulance service recorded fewer than 20 Code Zeroes in 2006. Last year, the EMS dealt with more than 90.

Mario Posteraro, president of Local 256 of the Ontario Public Services Employees Union, said the additional resources won’t be enough to fix the problem. “I don’t think it will make a significant enough impact,” he said. Since 2007, politicians have been providing nothing more than “band-aid” solutions to a complex problem, he said.

Councillor Brad Clark said the city doesn’t have any control over the root causes of Code Zeroes such as hospital ambulance offload delays caused by a lack of available in-patient beds.  (When  backlogged hospital emergency rooms cannot take new patients, paramedics are required to stay with their patients.)

But Clark said the city has a legal responsibility to do what it can to ensure enough ambulances are on the road.

EMS Director Brent Browett said ambulance response times initially improved after a $7 million funding influx in 2007.
But that improvement was gradually offset, he said, by the increasing amount of time paramedics have been spending in hospitals.
Last month, councillors approved a motion asking the provincial government to force hospitals to accept patients once they are dropped off in emergency areas. The motion also requested that hospitals accept patients within a half hour. 

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