Patients are waiting six to eight hours in ambulance bays and hospital hallways because there are no beds in the emergency rooms at Island hospitals, says the head of the union representing P.E.I.'s paramedics.
Jason Woodbury, president of CUPE Local 3324, said it has been an ongoing issue at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Charlottetown but now paramedics are also seeing it at the Prince County Hospital in Summerside.
He said at times there could be six ambulances tied up at hospitals, unable to leave because paramedics cannot leave until their patients are given a hospital bed.
"The resources are being depleted, so the 911 system, the emergency system, is the one that's suffering," said Woodbury.
"So, when you contact 911 you may not get an ambulance immediately in your community like you have in the past, because these vehicles are being tied up in other locations."
'We have no room for them'
It's not just the paramedics' union raising alarm bells, so too is one of P.E.I.'s highest-profile doctors.
In an interview last week with CBC News: Compass, Dr. Trevor Jain, an emergency room physician at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, said the problem is only getting worse. He said the delays unloading patients are having a significant impact on the health-care system.
"We have no room for them to put that patient in, so they're either stuck on the ambulance ramp or in the hallway just outside some of our rooms and they are providing ongoing paramedic care, but that has an impact on the system," said Jain.
"That's an ambulance off the road that can't be utilized for more calls."
Corinne Rowswell, acting chief operating officer with Health P.E.I., acknowledged there are some significant delays in getting patients from ambulances into hospital beds. She said emergency room staff do check in and triage patients who are waiting to get into the emergency department.
"A good percentage of it does have to do with staffing. So we know we have staffing shortages in a number of areas, including nurses, our registered nurses, our licensed practical nurses, and RCWs, etc. We know that staffing is a significant issue," said Rowswell.
"Whenever you've got a delay in service like that, you've got people waiting for long periods of time care may end up being compromised."
'Duty of care'
Caitlin Ferguson, a spokesperson with Medavie, which manages the ambulance service in P.E.I., said like everyone across the health-care system, they have been facing increased pressures with unloading delays.
She said they continue to work with health-care partners to find solutions to this "ongoing challenge."
"When a paramedic team brings a patient to a hospital emergency department, the paramedics have a duty of care to remain with the patient until the emergency department staff have completed the official transfer of care from the paramedics to an available bed," Ferguson said.
Jain is hopeful the situation will improve soon at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital.
"We're cautiously optimistic, we know that we got a few more beds open in our facility. We know that in other facilities on the Island they have closed beds and when you close beds in different parts of the system it all trickles into the Queen Elizabeth Hospital," he said.
"I want to see our wait times come down, I want to see our phenomenal paramedics back on the road in full force providing care to Islanders."
'Problem is chronic and it's getting worse'
Woodbury said he's not confident the situation is going to get any better anytime soon.
The paramedics' union has been lobbying the province for more resources. It has been without a contract with its employer, Island EMS, since Dec. 31, 2018.
The union goes into arbitration in December.
"This has been an ongoing issue with our members for the past five years. We've addressed this same issue with previous health ministers about off-load delays at the QEH so the problem isn't acute, the problem is chronic and it's getting worse and we're at a critical state."