Staffing shortages are being blamed for a significant reduction in the number of ambulances on the roads of Montreal and Laval this weekend.
Urgences-santé says it was forced to keep 24 of its ambulances out of service in both regions on Saturday night as a result. There should normally be 53 of them answering calls.
"It's been a difficult period for us right now with the staffing shortages we're dealing with," said Jean-Pierre Rouleau, Urgences-santé's chief of service.
"After two years of the pandemic our employees are tired and less accepting of overtime."
Rouleau says they are doing everything in their capacity to ensure the most urgent calls will be dealt with as soon as possible. Management has also been stepping in when some shifts are impossible to fill.
"We're prioritizing the most urgent calls, so the impact will be felt most on those with semi-urgent calls. Unfortunately the wait times will be longer for them," he said.
"If their condition worsens, they should call 911. We are doing what we can to make sure people in that situation can stay in communication with first responders to ensure their condition isn't worsening."
If someone finds themselves in that situation they can also reach out to Info-Sante at 8-1-1 to speak with a nurse, he said.
Last weekend 22 ambulances were also missing on both Friday and Saturday night. Rouleau said they usually need about 104 paramedics across both regions on weekend overnights, but had over 40 missing that weekend.
"Each week, it feels as if we have reached a tipping point in the crisis in the pre-hospital care system in Quebec," wrote Hall Newman, a former paramedic who now reports on ambulance shortages across the province, on his Facebook page The Last Ambulance.
"Each week, the government fails to take decisive action and implement the transformation which is required to guarantee equitable access to quality emergency pre-hospital care."
About 20 new hires are going through training right now who will start this summer, Rouleau said.
"We're hoping to hire over a hundred paramedics this year, but we're at the mercy of the number of graduates joining the workforce each year," he said, adding there are currently over 50 graduates they're trying to recruit.
They occasionally have paramedics out because they need to isolate, which is adding to the shortage, though the number has been steadily going down in recent weeks. Some are off on other types of leave.
"Many paramedics have decided to retire, while others have gone into new professions," he said. "We're doing everything we can right now to deal with the situation."