Emergency declaration over ambulance shortage ends, but officials say 'systemic' issues remain

Essex-Windsor EMS reported the time an ambulance wasn't available to respond to a call during the first two weeks of October was four times the amount for all of September. (County of Essex/www.countyofessex.ca - image credit)
Essex-Windsor EMS reported the time an ambulance wasn't available to respond to a call during the first two weeks of October was four times the amount for all of September. (County of Essex/www.countyofessex.ca - image credit)

Officials have rescinded the emergency declaration that went into effect after Windsor-Essex was left without ambulance coverage for hours spread across the first two weeks of October, but they say the crisis isn't over.

Data from Essex-Windsor EMS show that the amount of time the service was in Code Blacks has been rapidly rising since July.

A Code Black is when there are no ambulances available to respond to an emergency call.

Since the emergency declaration on Oct. 17, there have been two Code Blacks lasting minutes each.

A news release issued Friday morning by the County of Essex said "there have been no systemic changes that would warrant rescinding this local emergency."

Earlier this week Essex County warden Gary McNamara told CBC News that the situation would likely transition to a monitoring phase because the Code Blacks had gone down.

The county is now entering that phase and is required to send reports to the Ministry of Health, Ontario Health, area hospitals and the Central Ambulance Communications Centre twice a week.

Still in crisis

EMS Chief Bruce Krauter told CBC News earlier this month he applied to the provincial government for additional funding to help ease the pressures.

CBC News has asked the province for an update on the funding application.

Although the emergency declaration has been lifted, the county believes the crisis is not over.

"We are continuing to work with our regional hospital partners and the province on long-term solutions to address the systemic issues that contribute to these delays."

EMS Chief Bruce Krauter on the work being done to make ambulances available

Krauter stressed that the hospitals aren't to blame at a press conference earlier this month.

"The causes of off-load delays are complex and relating to long-standing issues of hospital capacity, patient flow, a lack of local primary care providers, which causes increased usage of [the] 911 system," he said.

In the last two years there's been an increase in situations where ambulances are left idling for hours outside emergency rooms while patients await admission, according to the county.

"In all my years of working in EMS, and that counts two years dealing with COVID, I've never seen our local health-care system in such a state of crisis," said Krauter.

Potential solutions

The county said it continues to work toward potential solutions, which include:

  • Provincial recognition of offload delays as a public health risk.

  • Implementing "fit-to-sit" programs at area hospitals for low acuity patients.

  • Having an Essex-Windsor EMS navigator in the Central Ambulance Communications Centre.

  • A pilot project utilizing the mobile medical unit at ERs

  • Alternate destination and treat and refer protocols.

  • Additional dedicated paramedic offload funding.

Time in Code Blacks

Month Time in Code Black (minutes) July 31 August 77 September 116 October (first two weeks) 491