It is an incredibly difficult time to be an Ottawa paramedic, the union representing them says. Stress levels are high, morale is low. 

The service reached ‘Level Zero’ hundreds of times in 2021, meaning in those moments there was a critical shortage of ambulances available.  

Staff shortages, increased workload and the fear of catching COVID are all taking their toll.

“We have heard loud and clear from the CUPE 503 paramedic services group, that morale has plummeted and stress levels are through the roof,” says Carrie Lynn Poole-Cotnam, Treasurer at CUPE 503, the union that represents Ottawa paramedics.

 “Our members feel that they are not able to meet the needs of the residents of Ottawa. And that there is little hope that their issues, when it comes to working conditions and resolving these systemic issues for the service, is possible.”

Earlier this month, Mayor Jim Watson and Coun. Matthew Luloff sent a letter to Ontario’s health minister asking for help with Ottawa’s health care system and staff shortages.

“These are incredible hard working people. And they’re there for us at such a critical moment,” Luloff said. “The chronically underfunded healthcare system has had a significant impact on our staff, and a significant impact on our service. Which again, in turn, in this awful feedback loop, has an impact on our staff.”

What’s called “offloading” is time-consuming. When paramedics bring a patient to the hospital, they have to wait until that patient is seen by hospital staff, sometimes for hours, before moving on to the next call.

“When there’s a backlog or when there are no nurses available to do that transfer or exchange of the patient, that’s why our members have to continue to maintain the care of that patient,” Poole-Cotnam said.

Luloff is asking the province to fund and hire new nursing and doctor positions, saying hospitals have done their part by adding space and extra beds, but there is no one to staff them. 

“Paramedics are out there every single day, working their butts off, and they’re taking care of patients at the hospital as well,” he said. “This is not a problem with the Ottawa paramedic service. These are incredibly dedicated and hard-working people. And they are getting burnt out by this.”

“It has escalated to the point where if you drive by the Civic Hospital on any given day, there may be 10 paramedic ambulances sitting waiting for that patient exchange to take place,” Poole-Cotnam said. 

The union says the province has to act now before more paramedics are driven out of the field.