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Essex mayor wants to see province take action on ambulance shortage, hospital system

Local officials are raising the alarm after shortages left the Windsor region without available ambulances for more than 2,000 minutes last year.  (County of Essex/www.countyofessex.ca - image credit)
Local officials are raising the alarm after shortages left the Windsor region without available ambulances for more than 2,000 minutes last year. (County of Essex/www.countyofessex.ca - image credit)

There were more than 2,000 minutes last year when there were no ambulances available to respond to 911 calls in Windsor and Essex County.

Essex Mayor Sherry Bondy said it needs to be addressed. She is bringing a motion to Essex town council on Monday calling for a full review of the local hospital system.

"I specifically want the province to look at Windsor-Essex and why are we having backlogs of ambulances waiting outside of our hospitals?," Bondy told CBC Windsor.

"Our residents are getting older. We have a growing population here. We need to make sure we have enough frontline staff and enough hospital capacity to adequately provide for Windsor and Essex County."

Jonathan Pinto/CBC
Jonathan Pinto/CBC

Bondy said she believes the region is short acute care beds compared to provincial averages by population. She also wants to see more done to keep nurses working in Windsor and to recruit and retain paramedics, on top of local initiatives already happening that aim to ease shortages.

"We're doing everything we can," Bondy said. "But it's time for the province to come down here and help because since this has been covered, I've had people message me that their loved ones have actually died waiting for ambulances."

In October, then-Essex County Warden Gary McNamara declared a state of emergency over the ambulance shortage that was later called off. Bondy said the region is still in an emergency

Situation 'crushing' for local paramedics: Union president

It's a situation that wears on local frontline paramedics, said James Jovanovic,  president of CUPE Local 2974 representing Essex Windsor EMS workers.

"We're just seeing severe burnout and we don't have the resources necessary to backfill when that does happen, when then someone ends up going off for an extended period," he said.

Jovanovic said the region has trouble attracting paramedics because the Greater Toronto Area absorbs almost all newly-graduated paramedics, and paramedics in those areas might make between $5 and $10 an hour more.

Jacob Barker/CBC
Jacob Barker/CBC

He estimates Windsor and Essex County, which currently has 300 paramedics, is short by at least 50.

"We need to be able to be competitive, to be able to draw people in, but also to be able to retain the ones that we have, and I don't think that we're currently doing a good enough job at addressing that."

Local EMS are currently in bargaining with the County of Essex, and Jovanovic said the issue of ambulance shortages is multifaceted one that requires both hospital and paramedic solutions.

Windsor-Tecumseh MPP Andrew Dowie told CBC Windsor Friday there are currently strategies in place to help ease the ambulance backlog, like a nursing program specifically to help get patients offloaded from ambulances faster and assurances to the county the province will help fund new hires.

"When you look at the data we have a high demand for the service right now," he said. "Part of that is people getting frustrated .. about the time it takes to wait, and there may be a sense that when you travel by ambulance you jump the queue at the emergency room.

"Using an ambulance ties up a lot of resources. Part of what we need to do is make sure we have more happening at the hospital."

A recent CBC Windsor story detailed a mother's nine-hour wait in the emergency department with her son, where she counted at least 16 paramedics waiting with her to offload their patients.

"When we see articles like that and we live it in real time every single day, where we're in the hallways with these people, we're responding to calls where someone has been waiting hours for us to get there and they might have deteriorated, they're an emotional state because they've been waiting so long," Jovanovic said.

"All we want to do is to be able to help you. When we don't have those resources, it's absolutely crushing."