Durham Region, Oshawa had zero ambulances available for much of Jan. 4

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Published January 4, 2022 at 10:08 pm

All of Durham Region, which has a population of more than 645,000, was evidently without its own ambulance service on Tuesday night (Jan. 4).

Healthcare staffing is stretched thin in densely populated regions of Ontario damid the Omicron-fuelled fifth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. Social media posts by Region of Durham paramedics and an anonymous Instagram account that highlights staffing shortages in the critical-care sector say Durham was at “Code Zero.” That means there an entire integrated health network has, at most one ambulance available. Paramedics from other municipalities have to take emergency calls, which tends to further lengthen response and transfer times during life-threatening emergencies where every second counts.

The Durham paramedics thanked their counterparts from Markham for handling calls.

“Code Zero” events were not unheard of prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. To give one example, Hamilton, whose population is roughly the same as Durham’s, had 27 code zero events in 2020. However, they lasted an average of 55 minutes.

Many hospital networks are redeploying ambulatory staff and emergency-trained physicians and nurses as they deal with staff being absent due to Omicron. On top of having staff members who have tested positive for COVID-19, staff who are a close contact must also go into isolation.

Paramedics who take a patient to a hospital usually cannot leave until their patient is being cared for by another healthcare worker. The longer the wait, the longer that the crew of that ambulance are not free to handle another medical emergency.

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