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City of Ottawa calling on province to help deal with paramedic offload delays at local hospitals

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The City of Ottawa is calling on the Ontario Ministry of Health to do more to help cut down on the time paramedics wait with patients at local hospitals, resulting in poorer response times and unavailable ambulances.

Monday's Emergency Preparedness and Protective Services Committee meeting heard from Ottawa Paramedic Chief Pierre Poirier on the current state of the Ottawa Paramedic Service and its ability to respond to calls. According to the presentation, paramedics spent more than 100,000 hours waiting to offload patients in Ottawa hospital emergency rooms in 2023 and there were 1,672 times when there were no paramedics available to respond to calls within the city of Ottawa — known as a "level zero" event.

Paramedics responded to life-threatening calls within the target time of eight minutes only 68 per cent of the time in 2023, and responded to urgent calls within the target time of 10 minutes 68.8 per cent of the time, below the 75 per cent target set by council.

Poirier told committee that offload delays at local hospitals are worsening.

"Our target is 30 minutes at the 90th percentile. We've had that target for several years and for several years hospitals have been unable to achieve that," Poirier said.

Ottawa paramedics spent 102,105 hours in offload delay at Ottawa hospitals last year, up 8.6 per cent compared to 2022. Poirier noted, however, that while the number of level zero events remains high, there was a 7.7 per cent decrease in 2023 compared to the year prior. The percentage of calls that were within response times also rose in 2023 compared to 2022, though it remained below the council-set goal of 75 per cent.

"Several of the mitigation efforts that the Ottawa Paramedic Service has put in place have actually reduced the level zero events, in spite of the fact that the actual offload delay numbers have worsened," Poirier said.

"From the Ottawa Paramedic Service's perspective, it is time for the hospitals to improve the transfer of care from our service to their service."

Committee chair Coun. Riley Brockington put forward a motion asking Mayor Mark Sutcliffe to write to the Minister of Health requesting that the Ministry "implement solutions to immediately address the issue of offload delays in hospitals, and requesting that the Ministry provide an update on the requests for an additional $4.5 Million for the Dedicated Offload Nurse Program at the Ottawa Hospital to address offload delay."

The Ottawa Hospital asked the province last year for $4.5 million to boost the offload nurse program in an effort to reduce paramedic waiting times. The funding would cover the costs to staff 12 new beds at the Ottawa Hospital Civic Campus, 12 beds at the General Campus, eight at the Queensway-Carleton Hospital and four at the Montfort Hospital. So far, the ministry has not responded to this request.

"The motion acknowledges funding that the province has provided to date, we do want to acknowledge that and appreciate that, but the fact is the level zero numbers are still very, very high," Brockington said. "There a direct correlation, in my opinion, between the level zero incidents and the offload delays that we're experiencing."

A spokesperson for Health Minister Sylvia Jones previously told CTV News Ottawa that the ministry has invested $51 million over three years to the Dedicated Offload Nursing Program (DONP) across the province.

"Last year (22/23), Ottawa's DONP funding was topped up to $2.6 million and their funding increased, receiving $2.84 million for 23/24. This, combined with the $53 million our government has provided Ottawa in funding for their Land Ambulance Services Grant, has increased ambulance availability by over 30,000 hours in 2022-23," the spokesperson said.

"As municipalities across the province know, the Land Ambulance Services Grant is based on 50/50 cost sharing with the province. Should the City of Ottawa want to increase their budget, the province will be there to match that request, as is the case with every other municipality."

--With files from CTV News Ottawa's Josh Pringle 

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