OTTAWA -- The Ottawa Paramedic Service is once again warning it will not be able to meet response time targets in future years due to long waits to off-load patients in Ottawa's emergency departments.

The service's 2020 Annual Report shows paramedics spent 46,096 hours in off-load delay at Ottawa hospitals last year.

"This represents an average of 126 unit hours that were lost per day or five paramedic units continuously held in hospital over a 24-hour period," said the report to the city’s community and protective services committee.

The off-load delay amounts to a loss of 55 full-time equivalents, or about $6.6 million a year.

Paramedics spent 46,096 hours waiting to off-load patients in emergency rooms despite a 9.5 per cent drop in calls last year.  There were 132,530 calls for service in 2020, down from 146,309 in 2019 and 144,309 in 2018.

Off-load delays occur when a patient arrives in an emergency department to be triaged, but remains under the care of paramedics until the emergency department has staff and resources available to take over care of the patient.

Paramedics spent 53,663 hours in offload delay in Ottawa-area hospitals in 2019.

"Despite the decrease in response volume, if off-load delay continues at the rate described in this report, the Ottawa Paramedic Service will not be able to achieve the legislated response time performance standards and Council-approved targets in future years," said the report.

The Ottawa Paramedic Service met the Council-approved response times in 2020 for the fourth consecutive year.


The Ottawa Paramedic Service says the decrease in calls in 2020 was the first time call volumes decreased since 2013.

"The decrease in response volume commenced in March, following the province of Ontario's declaration of a state of emergency on March 17, 2020," said the report, noting there was a significant reduction in indoor and outdoor activities, organized sports and social gatherings.

"Further, the volume decrease is attributable to changes in resident safety and security behaviours. It has been reported that residents avoided healthcare settings due to a perception that ambulances and hospitals were high-risk locations for the transmission of COVID-19," said staff.

"From March to July, response volume remained significantly lower compared to 2019, not returning to near pre-pandemic volumes until August."

The committee will discuss the report on May 20.