Ambulance shortage in Toronto prompts calls to nearby municipalities for help: union

The Toronto paramedics union is sounding the alarm after the city had no available ambulances to handle a large backlog of calls on Monday, prompting the union to issue a “Code Red Alert.”

The union told Global News that late in the afternoon, Toronto Paramedics Services requested help from surrounding paramedic services. There was a long queue of emergency calls and Toronto paramedics did not have available units to attend them, the union said.

“These calls were hours old, some as much as eight hours,” said Mike Merriman, paramedic services unit chair for CUPE Local 416.

Although the calls may not have been for life-threatening emergencies, Merriman said there was one in which an 80-year-old woman had fractured her arm in a fall and had waited on the floor for hours until a unit could get to her.

The union confirmed that York Regional Paramedic Services agreed to assist Toronto, but could not say if other regions did as well.

A York Regional Paramedic Services screen displaying approval to assist Toronto EMS.

A York Regional Paramedic Services screen displaying approval to assist Toronto EMS. Handout / CUPE Local 416
In a statement to Global News, Toronto Paramedics Services said it does not track data classified as “Code Red,” but does “run into situations where ambulance availability is low.”

“In-hospital wait time for Paramedics is the most significant challenge negatively impacting ambulance availability in Toronto. In addition, emergency call volumes have returned to pre-pandemic levels, and are expected to increase 3-5 per cent annually — primarily driven by an aging, growing and increasingly vulnerable population,” the statement said.

Merriman said that while a backlog of calls and lack of resources “was not an anomaly,” Monday was the first time he’s heard of Toronto’s paramedics having to reach out to other municipalities for help.

He alleged that despite a desperate need for available personnel in ambulances, “management” has taken several paramedics off the road to train as acting supervisors.

“The roof is on fire, but they continue to water the lawn,” Merriman said.