By Cecilia Nasmith/Today’s Northumberland
Ambulance offload delays have cost Northumberland taxpayers more than $1-million over the last several years, county council’s Community Health Committee heard at its August meeting.
Northumberland Paramedics Chief Susan Brown gave a performance update on the Eastern Ontario Wardens Caucus Refresh Report – “refresh,” Brown explained, as in recovery from the extraordinary demands of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Some of our challenges and barriers are consistent across Eastern Ontario,” she reported, though she had a lot of local data as well on the time frame covering 2020 to the present.
Special challenges across the region include an 18% increase in call volumes but a 21% increase in response to those calls.
The numbers really shoot up in discussions of hospital offload delays (OLD), increasing by 161%.
“It is important to note that the offload ‘timer’ does not start until the ambulance and crew have been at the hospital for 30 minutes,” the report clarified.
Locally, the county’s paramedic services has experienced a 113% increase in OLD events, “which is 180.5% in hours at a cost of $1.1-million to the budget.”
Contributing to this cost is the occasional need for transport of a patient to other communities, including Peterborough, Belleville and Kingston.
The amount of time vehicles and staff are out of the area contributes to a poor measure of unit utilization – a tool used to measure workload – making these resources unavailable for fresh calls that come in, “increasing our response times, time on task and cost per call.”
Brown believes that the advent of the Community Paramedicine Program in March 2022 offers promise with its proactive approach of offering in-home services to seniors such as preventing accidents and identifying medical conditions earlier – before they become emergencies.
This is important in Northumberland County, she said, where in 2018 seniors (aged 65+) represented 27% of the population but accounted for 59% of the call volume. Four years, later, seniors represented 30% of the population and account for 61% of the patient load.
She also is hopeful for the new dispatch system being implemented throughout Ontario by 2025 – the Medical Priority Dispatch System – based on an American system that more accurately identifies the highest-acuity calls for fastest response.