Union for paramedics says staff shortages have them at breaking point

They warn that at times only one ambulance is available for the entire city

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They are at the “breaking point” and feel “defeated.”

The union representing Toronto paramedics says its members are feeling the brunt of long-term staffing shortages worsened by the surge of COVID-19 that often removes ambulances from circulation — stuck at hospitals waiting for patients to be admitted.

“They’re defeated now. They’re drained,” said Mike Merriman, chair, Toronto Civic Employees Union Local 416.

“There are times when it has definitely gotten down to one ambulance for the entire city.”

The union tweeted what’s called a “code red” on the weekend because of a dire shortage.

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“It’s a mess right now. It’s definitely a mess,” Merriman said.

There are 1,400 paramedics in the service.

At any given time, about 240 are out in the city on duty.

But the union says COVID sick leave has temporarily sidelined roughly 10% of members right now.

Add to that hospital backups, and staff shortages and Merriman says it has paramedics often scrambling from call to call with some having very little time to have lunch.

“We’ve been warning them for years, there is no surge capacity in this system, and in an emergency service you have to have surge capacity,” he said.

Hospital waits by paramedics have been made worse by the pandemic.

Especially with the giant wave or Omicron cases flooding emergency rooms, which is crowding out and clogging all other hospital services.

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The union insists there are still long-standing staffing weaknesses the COVID-19 pandemic has only exposed.

Merriman says the current situation is putting public health and safety at risk.

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“The system has been chronically understaffed for years,” said Merriman. “If you get lucky, you will get an ambulance in a timely manner. It’s just luck of the draw.”

He also said the service and the city should urgently replace some 60 paramedics seconded to roles that have taken them off the streets.

“All I can hope is that something is learned from this because I’m sure this won’t be the last pandemic or whatever other disaster has to be dealt with.”

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