Paramedics of Windsor-Essex experienced another Code Black Tuesday night, which saw a period of time with no ambulances to respond to 911 calls immediately.
The newest shortage of ambulances comes after a four paramedics were placed on unpaid leave for not complying with the vaccine policy for city employees. The deadline to submit proof of vaccination for city staff passed on Monday.
Bruce Krauter, the chief of Essex Windsor EMS, said a recent spike in ambulance offload delays are to blame for Code Blacks.
Offload delays happen when a patient arrives to the hospital in an ambulance -- but there is nobody there to receive the patient right away. So paramedics have to take care of that patient until someone from the emergency department is able to let the patient in.
He said they are working to solve the problem.
"We're meeting with the hospitals not just daily, but continually throughout the day and the night to ensure that we have proper patient flow and that we can get the ambulances offloaded on a timely manner so we can have them available."
Krauter said offload delays are longer and more frequent now than ever.
"We haven't seen offload delays like this... in three years. I am personally attributing it to the collateral damage of COVID," he said. "The vaccination rates are not where they should be and I would encourage everyone to get vaccinated."
Union pointing to shortage in staff, ambulances
Fewer EMTs can also leave the system prone to another Code Black. Most recently there was a Code Black in September.
James Jovanovic, the president of the local paramedics union, CUPE Local 2974, said there needs to be more acknowledgement of the chronic shortage in staff and ambulances.
"This is a public safety concern. Yet, every time county council addresses the issue, they deflect by saying this is a province issue or a hospital issue, or that the union is doing this for bargaining," he said. "But that's simply not true... We need more care and attention."
County council referred to the public concern that was being raised as 'noise'. So when you see that being the response, it certainly can be frustrating. - James Jovanovic, president of the paramedics union, CUPE Local 2974
Jovanovic said there was a spike in the number of Code Blacks this early spring and summer.
"That was in correlation with the reduction of several ambulances from our night shift. From there, it kind of had a ripple effect on our staffing, where our staffing experienced a higher rates of burnout, more sick time, more overtime with less ability to accept overtime -- then it snowballed from there," he said.
Adding with fewer staff and more trucks taken out of the mix it leads to more Code Blacks. He said it feels like county council is not listening
"Specifically in relation to a member of the community who passed away after waiting five hours for an ambulance. County council referred to the public concern that was being raised as 'noise'. So when you see that being the response, it certainly can be frustrating."
Jovanovic is referring to a county council meeting that took place on October 20, 2021. There was a limited discussion about a patient that had died after a long wait for an ambulance.
He said they need to hire at least 50 more paramedics to run at full capacity. Krauter said they are looking to recruit some part time staff, but not nearly as many as fifty.
What they need is two more ambulances, said Jovanovic. Krauter said the total cost of one new ambulance (including maintenance, insurance and other costs) can come to about $1.5 million.
Jovanovic said it is crucial to quickly hire more paramedics because Windsor-Essex is currently experiencing a code-red -- with only about two ambulances ready to hit the road on a day-to-day basis.
Krauter said they are working on recruiting more people as well.
"We've been recruiting constantly over over the course of the pandemic. Once we finish a recruitment phase, we're recruiting more paramedics. We had a meeting with St. Clair College the other day... enrolment rates are somewhat down, in not just the paramedic field, but in the health care field," he said.
"There is burnout across the healthcare sector because we have been working at this crisis for 19 months now."
CBC News reached out to Essex County council for comment, but they have not responded by the time of this publication.