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Paramedic union sweet has councillor “gravely concerned” about shortage of ambulances

Coun. Jim Karygiannis speaks out after tweet on Nov. 25 said only 16 ambulances were available

The union representing Toronto paramedics tweeted on Nov. 25 that there were only 16 ambulances available to service the entire city. (CBC)

A Toronto city councillor is worried that there might be too few ambulances available to respond to critical calls in the city after paramedics sounded the alarm on Twitter last Sunday.

Responding to a Nov. 25 tweet from the union representing paramedics in the city, which said there were only 16 ambulances available at 3:30 a.m., Coun. Jim Karygiannis said Thursday he is “gravely concerned” for Torontonians.

Karygiannis, who will represent Ward 22 when the new council begins sitting next week, said 16 ambulances in a with a population of  2.8 million, means one ambulance for every 175,000 people.

“The response time of an ambulance is supposed to be less than eight minutes on critical calls,” Karygiannis told CBC Toronto.

“I do not think that [16] ambulances available will be able to meet that standard. It has me gravely concerned for the people of the city of Toronto.”

While Karygiannis could not say how many ambulances should be available at any given time, he said the authorities need to make sure that there more ambulances as well as more paramedics.

He said he has also reached out to Toronto Paramedics management to ask how many ambulances are available per person, but he has received no response.

“I’m concerned that this might end up in loss of life,” Karygiannis said, adding that “we as a city of Toronto cannot afford this.”

“We have to respond, we have to step up to the plate.”

Coun. Jim Karygiannis is worried that there might be too few ambulances available to respond to critical calls in the city. (CBC)

Mike Merriman, unit chair for paramedic services at  CUPE Local 416, says on the particular day when there were only 16 ambulances, they would have started off with 60 at the beginning of the shift.

He also said there have been times when the number of ambulances dropped below 16.

“Ambulances get tied up with calls; get tied up at hospitals, so it dropped down to only 16 available for the entire city,” Merriman told CBC Toronto.

“There have been times when the ambulances have dropped down to zero. It may not be long, it might be for 20 minutes or so but there was zero ambulances available to service the entire city.”

‘It’s fast approaching a crisis’

Merriman is concerned that there could be a repeat of the “code red” situation. He said explained that the term is used when the available ambulances for the city drop down to an unacceptable level.

“There has been a 5.4 per cent increase in our call volume as opposed to last year already and the year isn’t even over, and there are days when that will actually spike to a 10 per cent increase in call volume as opposed to the previous year,” Merriman said.

“I would say it’s fast approaching a crisis because flu season hasn’t even hit yet. If the amount of calls generated by the flu [are] as high as they were in January of last year, there’s going to be severe problems.”

Mike Merriman, unit chair for paramedic services at CUPE Local 416, is concerned there could be a repeat of the ‘code red’ situation. (Martin Trainor/CBC)

Merriman said the union has been in discussions with Toronto Paramedics about increasing the number of full-time paramedics.

“We have approximately 200 part-time employees that were hired a few years ago and we haven’t had a hiring since 2016,” he said.

“A short term remedy is obviously they need to increase staff. It’s the union’s position that they’re already trained paramedics, they’re already in the system, they know our system and they could be confirmed into full-time tomorrow which would go a long way to ease the pressures on the system.”

Public safety not at risk, city says

Tammy Robbinson, a spokesperson for the city, told CBC Toronto public safety is not at risk.

Robbinson said emergency call volumes are historically high this time of year due to cold and flu season, which also impacts patient volumes in hospital emergency departments.

“Paramedic Services has a dynamic system that is designed to maintain continuous ambulance coverage in response to all 911 medical emergency calls,” Robbinson said in a written statement.

“Paramedic Services monitors ambulance availability in real-time to ensure continuous ambulance coverage throughout the city.”