There was a critical shortage of available Ottawa paramedic units for a second straight night Wednesday, as delays in hospitals and COVID-19 in the community impact emergency services.

Paramedic Chief Pierre Poirier confirms to CTV News Ottawa the service was at Level Zero due to pressures caused by COVID-19 in the early morning hours of Dec. 28 and Dec. 29. The paramedic service was also at Level Zero on Dec. 22.

"The Ottawa Paramedic Service, along with other emergency services across Ontario and Canada, is currently experiencing unprecedented service impacts due to the COVID-19 pandemic," said Poirier.

"These service impacts are related to the record cases of COVID-19 within the community, the offload delays being incurred at hospitals and the high call volumes, which have returned to pre-pandemic levels."

It is not unusual for the Ottawa Paramedic Service to declare Level Zero. In 2019, the service was at Level Zero 329 times in eight months.

However, the current COVID-19 pandemic case levels are putting new strains on emergency services in Ottawa.

Poirier says when Level Zero was experienced three times in eight days, it was able to mitigate impacts with the support of the Ottawa Fire Service and other local paramedic services.

Word of the three Level Zero's in eight days comes as the Ottawa Paramedic Service deals with a COVID-19 outbreak that resulted in 53 staff members testing positive. Poirier told council on Tuesday that 61 service members had cleared COVID-19 protocols and returned to work.

"Contingencies are no longer required to mitigate service delivery impacts related to this incident."

On Wednesday, Emergency and Protective Services General Manager Kim Ayotte confirmed the paramedic service was at Level Zero on Tuesday, adding offload delays in emergency rooms remains a significant challenge.

"Our service is often impacted when paramedics are held in the emergency department for an extended time. Offload delays at hospital emergency rooms remain a significant challenge. This issue continues to affect Council-approved and legislated response times, now and in the future," said Ayotte in a statement to CTV News Ottawa.


Paramedics from Prescott-Russell have seen an increase in calls to assist other jurisdictions through the fall and winter, mainly in Ottawa.

"There’s been a slight increase in December in the calls that we’ve been assigned to for neighbouring municipalities, more specifically to Ottawa but it’s nothing out of the ordinary," said Marc-André Périard, Prescott-Russell Emergency Services Chief.  "Actually the increase has been more - I said November - but even since September there’s been a bit of an increase compared to last year, I’d say about five per cent more than we saw last year."

Périard says the COVID-19 outbreak within the Ottawa Paramedic Service had "little impact on us," and the service didn't receive an increase in calls.

"They were able to continue staffing as they needed to."

Périard tells CTV News Ottawa delays in patient transfers has been a major issue for paramedics across the region.

"Our calling due to the pandemic has not increased at all, it’s really offload delays that are creating the Ottawa paramedics to be stuck in the hospitals and then not able to respond to their calls so obviously they’re calling on us as their neighbour to do their calls," said Périard.

"Offload delays have been the number one issue for all of the services, even in our area."