The number of “Level Zero” events for Ottawa paramedics in the first half of this year nearly equalled the total from all of last year, as the service deals with high call volume and offload delays in hospital emergency rooms.

Ottawa paramedics experienced 725 “Level Zero” events from January to June, when there are no paramedics available to respond to emergency calls, compared to 750 in all of 2021.

In addition, the service says there has been a "significant number" of Level Zero events so far in July.

Level Zero events occur when there are no ambulance crews available to respond to a call, often because crews are waiting to offload patients at the emergency department.

"As a result of the ongoing system-wide health care crisis across the country, the Ottawa Paramedic Service, along with other emergency services across Ontario and Canada, continue to experience unprecedented service impacts," Ottawa Paramedic Service chief Pierre Poirier said in a statement to CTV News Ottawa.

"The longstanding offload delays incurred at hospitals continue to challenge the Ottawa Paramedic Service, and other cities across Canada, and remain a significant contributor to level zero incidences. Hospital offload delays impact the Service’s resources, ability to respond to calls and return to service quickly."

Hospitals in Ottawa have been warning patients to expect longer wait times to see a doctor in emergency departments this summer, due to high patient volumes and staffing shortages. In May, the average wait time to see a doctor for a first assessment in an Ottawa hospital emergency department was between 1.9 hours and 3.7 hours.

Since April, the Ottawa Paramedic Service has seen a 20 per cent increase in call volumes.

"The trickledown effect of surrounding regional municipalities faced with these similar pressures further exacerbate level zero incidences citywide. These factors, along with ongoing COVID-19 staffing shortages and consistently high call volumes, has put an extra strain on our resources," Poirier said.

Paramedics are implementing new and existing mitigation measures to reduce offload delays in the emergency department, including a "Patient Flow Paramedic" at the Queensway Carleton Hospital to monitor up to three newly arrived patients in the ER, "community paramedicine programs" to provide patient assessment and treatment in the community and a "mental wellbeing response team."

The Ottawa Paramedic Service has hired 28 new staff members this year to increase capacity to meet the demand for service.