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Toronto paramedics issue a code red, as COVID results in no ambulances available to respond

Two rows of ambulances inn a garage
Toronto Paramedic Services
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Toronto Paramedic Services had to call a code red over the weekend, when no ambulances were available to respond.

Staffing shortages continue to plague Ontario’s healthcare system, even though case numbers of COVID-19 fell below 10,000 Monday. The shortages have now hit paramedics and the could impact responses to emergency calls.

Even though cases fell, officials warned the actual number is likely much higher. Hospitalizations are also climbing — more than 2,600 people in the hospital, with nearly 440 in intensive care units.

In Toronto over the weekend, about 50 ambulances were out of service, forcing the Toronto Paramedic Services to issue a code red. There was not a single free ambulance to respond to calls.

Mike Merriman represents the Canadian Union of Public Employees, which represents Toronto’s paramedics. He said about 10% of the city’s 1,400 paramedics are off sick.

"It’s a symptom of a chronically understaffed and underfunded service," Merriman said. "We had a lot of trouble handling calls before COVID and, certainly now, that’s been exacerbated exponentially by COVID with increased calls."

Merrriman said the situation also has been worsened by the fact that paramedics have to spend more time in hospitals waiting to hand over care of a patient.

"If we don’t have a bed to put them in, we can’t move them off a stretcher, and we can’t move them into the waiting room safely," said Dr. Erin O’Conner, deputy director of Emergency Medicine at Toronto’s University Health Network. "Then, unfortunately, they’re stuck staying on the EMS stretchers."

Late Monday, the Will Osler Health System announced that the urgent care center at Peel Memorial Centre Hospital will be closed until at least the beginning of February because of extreme capacity and staffing shortages.

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