The City’s Emergency Preparedness and Protective Services Committee today approved the Ottawa Paramedic Service’s investment plan for 2024 to 2026, which would put more new paramedics on the road to address a steady increase in service demand and help reduce the amount of time spent waiting in offload delay in hospital emergency rooms.
To address the current urgent need for more paramedics, the City would hire 14 of its 2024 growth positions as soon as possible this year, to be funded from the tax stabilization reserve fund. Over the next three budget cycles, the City would consider addressing growth pressures by adding 23 new paramedics and two new emergency vehicles each year. To address offload delay in hospitals, the City would also consider adding another 17 new paramedics and one new emergency vehicle each year over the next three budget cycles, subject to provincial and local hospital funding.
The Ottawa Paramedic Service’s annual report for 2021 and 2022 emphasizes the steady increase in service demand in recent years. This is due to many factors, including significant increases in emergency vehicle response volume, excessive time spent in offload delay at local hospitals, pressures due to COVID-19 and the overall state of the healthcare system. Response volume has increased by unprecedented increments, surpassing its pre-pandemic state, and continues to grow mainly due to population growth, an aging patient demographic and more complex medical conditions.
These challenges have impacted paramedics’ ability to meet target response times. In 2021 and 2022, the Ottawa Paramedic Service did not meet the target response time for the most urgent priority calls. Paramedics are also having to wait far too long at hospital emergency departments to transfer patient care to hospital staff. In 2022, paramedics spent more than 93,000 hours in offload delay resulting in, on average, about 512 hours of paramedic time lost per day, or 42 staff per day.
The root causes of offload delay are within the Ontario healthcare system and outside the control of the City of Ottawa. However, it is an ongoing risk to public health and safety and impedes paramedics from meeting target response times. Offload delay and response volume also contribute to the number of level zero events, which occur when there are no ambulances available to respond to new calls. In 2022, paramedics were at level zero 1,806 times for a total of 73,060 minutes. Mayor Sutcliffe has recently advocated to the Province of Ontario and local hospitals, asking for their support to reduce hospital offload times and ensure paramedics are available for Ottawa residents. The Ottawa Paramedic Service continues to work with local hospitals and other partners on strategies to reduce offload delay and level-zero events, including diverting patients from hospitals and having paramedics assist with patient flow in emergency departments.
These challenges are also negatively impacting paramedic employee wellness. The average number of staff on leave has increased from about 11 per month in 2016 to about 60 per month in 2022, and staff hours claimed have increased by 250 per cent over that period. The service has implemented several initiatives aimed at providing staff with the physical and mental supports they need, including peer support, counselling and resources for dealing with operational stress. The investment plan also seeks to have the City consider adding three new positions in the 2024 draft budget to provide psychological support to staff and reduce operational stress injury.
The Committee also approved a by-law review work plan for the 2023-2026 term of Council. The City would undertake 35 by-law reviews or projects to action Council directions, respond to provincial legislative changes and address emerging issues. The work plan includes a review of the Licensing By-Law, including individual reviews for several different types of businesses, focused on modernizing existing regulations and requirements. The City would also review both of its special events by-laws to update regulations and streamline processes, as well as consider recommendations from the Auditor General and the Public Order Emergency Commission regarding demonstrations. A web page listing current and future reviews, including status updates, public consultation information and related reports, will be launched by the first quarter of 2024.
The City could soon launch a three-year pilot to improve accessible taxi service for people with disabilities in Ottawa after the Committee approved the recommendations of a study of on-demand accessible taxi service. The pilot would include a centralized dispatch service for on-demand wheelchair accessible vehicles and annual incentive grants. The City would provide grants of $5,000 per year to plate holders or vehicle owners to invest in a fully accessible vehicle. Drivers of accessible taxis would receive up to $2,000 per year for maintaining availability for on-demand service, plus $15 per trip for each accessible fare. The City would also amend the Vehicle-for-Hire By-law to recognize the higher costs associated with operating an accessible taxicab and to encourage re-entry into the business by reducing accessible plate license transfer fees and adjusting vehicle age limits.
These reports will rise to Council on Wednesday, June 28.