There were 28 hours in January when there were zero ambulances available in the City of Winnipeg to respond to emergencies, according to data obtained by the Manitoba NDP.
That’s four times longer than it was two years before in December 2019, which at the time was the longest monthly total in four years.
It also wasn’t even the worst month for ambulance unavailability in Winnipeg in the last year.
Figures from the City of Winnipeg show that in August 2021, there were nearly 31 hours where there were no ambulances available to respond to calls.
That works out to about 59.69 non-consecutive minutes per day, a City of Winnipeg spokesperson confirmed.
The data, obtained through a freedom of information request, was tabled in question period Wednesday by NDP Health Critic Uzoma Asagwara.
It also shows that in the same month, there were 588 instances where there were no EMS units available to respond to calls for service.
“The problems were known long before the pandemic, and the government did absolutely nothing to resolve it,” Asagwara said.
The figures for January also show that nearly two-thirds of the time that month the ambulances were in degraded mode — meaning there were six or fewer ambulances available for service.
Six is the base number the Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service uses to determine whether they can meet target response times.
After working through the pandemic, paramedics are burned out, and numbers reflect that, said Ryan Woiden, a longtime paramedic who is the president of the paramedic union, Manitoba Government and General Employees’ Union Local 911.
“The days of trying to pick up the over time when when the staffing levels are low, they’re becoming fewer and far between because of the exhaustion,” he said.
Back in December 2019, Woiden told CBC News he had never seen it so busy for paramedics.
The fact that it’s gotten even worse reflects that the entire system needs to be revamped, he said.
“Truly I think that you end up seeing those numbers increase because there hasn’t been any major changes to the way we do business,” he said.
“I’m not sitting here saying that we need ten more ambulances and 100 more paramedics. What I’m saying is, what if we were to think outside the box and do things a little bit differently?”
Population growth, increased call volumes and call complexity, longer wait times for transferring patients, and the ongoing impact of the COVID-19 pandemic have put additional pressures on the city’s transport ambulance availability, a spokesperson for the City of Winnipeg said via email.
However, the Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service and Shared Health are implementing measures to reduce strain on the system, such as serving lower acuity patients through the community paramedic when safe to do so, and establishing transfer of care procedures to minimize the time ambulances remain at a hospital, said Michelle Lancaster, communications officer for the Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service.
Health Minister Audrey Gordon said she hadn’t seen the data yet, but will review it.
She added that her government’s most recent budget includes money to hire 35 more paramedics across the province.
In addition, the City of Winnipeg and Shared Health are currently working on a new deal over funding for ambulances and paramedics, she said.
“And it’s my job to listen to Manitobans and ensure that, as part of the discussions around development of that agreement, we’re looking at these concerns,” she said.
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