“It’s very troubling to see these gaps in our health care systems across the country continue and not be addressed. These are not new problems, and patients are being placed at risk, both in emergency and long-term care.” ― Larry Brown, NUPGE President
Ottawa (24 Oct. 2019) ― As reported by CBC News, level zero — a situation where a 911 call comes in, but there's a lack of ambulances to respond to medical emergencies — is becoming an alarmingly frequent event in Ottawa and the surrounding area. From January to August 2019, there were 329 instances of level zero in Ottawa.
Multiple reasons for an increase in level zero scenarios
Various reasons are cited for level zero becoming a frequent occurrence. A shortage of staff and resources is a significant factor. Multiple health care professionals have spoken out about understaffed emergency rooms in Ottawa on previous occasions, as reported by CBC News. Another is the fact that paramedics must stay with a patient when they’re taken to a hospital by ambulance, but sometimes the wait time to have that patient transferred to a bed can take hours.
Emergency rooms the canary in the coal mine
Dr. Andrew Willmore, an emergency room doctor and medical director of emergency management at the Ottawa Hospital, says “emerge really is the canary in the coal mine” (CBC News). When there’s a backlog of patients in emerge, the source of the problem can sometimes be found elsewhere in the system.
An example would be a patient who is ready to be released into long-term care but is forced to stay in the hospital due to a shortage of long-term care beds. NUPGE believes we must look at our health care system as a whole and make investments in areas such as long-term care. Governments know that our aging population will require more long-term care facilities, but lack of investment has resulted in patients being stuck in inappropriate and more expensive emergency room beds.
NUPGE Component issued similar warnings in Newfoundland and Labrador
Under the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (ATIPPA), the Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Public and Private Employees (NAPE/NUPGE) was able to access records that showed an increase in situations where ambulances weren’t available to respond to medical emergencies. It reported the findings 2 web posts during the summer.
Level 1 red alerts are defined as a situation where an emergency call comes in, but no ambulance is available to respond to the call. There were 196 level 1 red alerts in 2017 and 251 in 2018. At the time of NAPE/NUPGE’s information request, only the first-quarter results were available for 2019, but 90 Level 1 red alerts had already occurred in that time.
“It’s very troubling to see these gaps in our health care systems across the country continue and not be addressed. These are not new problems, and patients are being placed at risk, both in emergency and long-term care,” said NUPGE President Larry Brown. “Governments seem to think they can delay investments in health care without consequences. Clearly the patients are the ones who pay.”
“You can have the best people on the job, but when the system has flaws, the best people aren’t able to do their best work. And Canadians are the ones paying the price for the cuts to our public services.”
The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) is one of Canada's largest labour organizations with over 390,000 members. Our mission is to improve the lives of working families and to build a stronger Canada by ensuring our common wealth is used for the common good. — NUPGE