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Ontario NDP leader calls for action on ending code blacks during Windsor visit

Ontario NDP leader Marit Stiles (centre) urged provincial action on the region's ambulance shortage in a visit to Windsor on Friday, May 19, 2023. Pictured with Windsor West MPP Lisa Gretzky (left) and Town of Essex Mayor Sherry Bondy (right).  (Jennifer La Grassa/CBC - image credit)
Ontario NDP leader Marit Stiles (centre) urged provincial action on the region's ambulance shortage in a visit to Windsor on Friday, May 19, 2023. Pictured with Windsor West MPP Lisa Gretzky (left) and Town of Essex Mayor Sherry Bondy (right). (Jennifer La Grassa/CBC - image credit)

Ontario NDP leader Marit Stiles urged action on the region's ambulance shortage in a Windsor stop Friday.

Windsor West MPP Lisa Gretzky, Essex Mayor Sherry Bondy and Essex-Windsor EMS union president James Jovanovic joined Stiles outside the Windsor Regional Hospital emergency department.

"What we've seen government after government do in healthcare is apply Band-Aids to just a massive gaping wound that's getting worse and worse," Stiles said.

"We need urgent, significant solutions."

Jennifer La Grassa/CBC
Jennifer La Grassa/CBC

Stiles' visit comes after a motion passed at Essex town council this week calling on the province to review the area's health-care system amid repeated reports of ambulance back-ups at hospitals and so-called "code blacks," when there are no ambulances available to respond.

"This has been a well known issue and everybody sitting around the table needs to come and provide a solution because my community is at risk," Bondy said, noting the Essex motion was unanimously approved.

For the first three months of 2023, Windsor-Essex was without any available ambulances for almost 100 minutes, and in a code red — meaning there were two or fewer ambulances available — for more than 800 minutes.

Jennifer La Grassa/CBC
Jennifer La Grassa/CBC

"We have sounded the alarm on the consequences of this over the last several years," said Jovanovic. "Our paramedics are exhausted. We are exhausted due to chronic understaffing. We are resilient by nature.

"We will press on and care for you to the best of our ability, but we need to be able to do so without our hands being tied behind our backs."

Jovanovic said the region frequently uses Chatham-Kent ambulances, and last Monday five of that jurisdiction's nine ambulances were tied up in Windsor.

There are currently strategies in place to help ease the backlog of ambulances, like designated nurses and paramedics to help get patients offloaded and a program for paramedics to treat patients in the community.

Windsor-Tecumseh MPP Andrew Dowie said the nurse offloading program saved 1,117 paramedic hours between when it was implemented last year and March 31 of 2023.

The Windsor Regional Hospital said no one was available to comment on the issue today, but said this week's EMS call volumes had been low and there have been no code blacks.

Jennifer La Grassa/CBC
Jennifer La Grassa/CBC

Dowie said he encourages anyone to reach out to him if more assistance is needed, and said he hadn't heard from Essex-Windsor EMS since a joint meeting with the provincial health minister in October.

"I have regular and ongoing discussions with the hospital every couple days, this week it's been, call it every day," Dowie said, adding hospital officials tell him current strategies are helping.