EMS workers face their own wait-times woes

Emergency Room patients are not the only ones plagued by delays in Toronto hospitals. Scarborough resident Stryder Strassburger now fears for his life because of delayed response times by Emergency Medical Services (EMS) workers.

Suffering from asthma attacks all his life, Strassburger is no stranger to the emergency room. Last week, his friends waited anxiously for an ambulance for almost 30 minutes while he remained unconscious.

“I had an attack and I was unconscious until arrival at the hospital,” he said later. “I’m really worried that something bad might happen one of these times.”

Delayed response times can’t be blamed on any one person. Bruce Gallagher, the supervisor of EMS operations, said that emergency rooms are always crowded. When ambulances arrive there, he said the medics wait in line behind walk-in patients and those waiting for diagnostic tests.

“There are a lot of patients who may be waiting for procedures like MRIs or CT scans that aren’t done on weekends. Those people will occupy beds,” he said. “There’s no room on the floors to place the (ambulance) patients so the emergency room gets crowded.”

Gallagher said ideally, with paperwork and the offloading of their patients, EMS workers should not be kept in the hospital for more than an hour.

“It depends on the acuity of the patient,” he said. “The more acutely ill the patient is, the more paperwork that needs to be done, but we shouldn’t be there as long as we are sometimes It is a variable dependent on patient condition. The more severe ones will get offloaded quicker and the time range can be anywhere from an hour to eight-to-10 hours.

The offload delays affect the morale of the paramedics. They are often unable to take a lunch break or have to work overtime because they are with a patient, says EMS spokesperson Lyla Miller.

“It’s frustrating because they are trained to give pre-hospital emergency health care in the community, take their patient to the hospital and go to the next call,” she said. “They are not hospital workers and it’s frustrating for them to be in the hospital for so long, sometimes for most of their 12-hour shift.”

Currently, paramedics respond to a call in less than nine minutes 69 per cent of the time. But that percentage has dropped 15 per cent since 1996.

Ontario Health Ministry spokesperson, Laura Ostfield says that reducing the offload delays is top priority for the Ontario government.

“We are working on reducing emergency room wait times, it is a priority for this government,” she said. “We are bringing a lot more money to fund ambulance services in Toronto, and hopefully soon changes will be evident.”