Patients brought to Canadian hospitals by ambulance forced to wait hours for emergency care
11/11/2021 // Cassie B. // Views

Patients being brought into hospitals in Canada by ambulance are being subjected to hours-long waits as the country’s publicly funded health system struggles with staffing shortages.

Alberta Health Services Paramedic Don Sharpe recently spoke with RAIR Foundation USA to explain how hospitals there are regularly forcing patients in urgent need of care to wait for hospital admission. There are often several emergency patients waiting in hospital hallways for several hours at a time to get emergency treatment.

“But every day, you’ll see patients lined up in hallways of hospital emergency departments and with the paramedics because the hospital refuses to accept care of these patients,” he said.

Although Canada is one of a few countries that allows patients to be removed from the ambulance and brought into the hallway of the hospital while waiting, paramedics say they cannot provide good-quality care to patients in such an environment, and clashes with nursing staff as they advocate for bed assignments can be tense. It also means that privacy and hygiene are being compromised.

Sharpe blames a “huge leadership vacuum” in Canadian healthcare for the problem. In addition to the dangers it poses to patients in need of emergency care, it ties up ambulances and EMTs, who could be out in the community helping others in need.

12-Hour waits for care in some places

Photos posted on social media of eight ambulances parked outside a New Brunswick emergency room waiting to get inside caused a stir recently, prompting an ambulance spokesperson to confirm the situation. Five of them were late in unloading, which means they were either waiting for nurse supervision or room in the ER. Their wait times ranged from 2 hours and 9 minutes on the short end to a horrifying 12 hours and 29 minutes on the higher end.


“In total that day, ambulances experienced more than 61 (61.35) hours in unloading delays in the Emergency Department of the Dr. Georges-L.-Dumont University Hospital Center,” an Ambulance New Brunswick spokesperson reported. Other area hospitals have also been registering double-digit discharge hours.

Meanwhile, the head of the union that represents paramedics in the Prince Edward Island province, Jason Woodbury, said people are regularly waiting six to eight hours in hospital hallways and ambulance bays due to a lack of emergency room beds. The closures of rural emergency departments due to lack of staff are contributing to these problems.

Queen Elizabeth Hospital emergency room physician Dr. Trevor Jain said the delays have been having a serious impact on the healthcare system. "That's an ambulance off the road that can't be utilized for more calls," he said.

Health P.E.I. acting chief operating officer Corinne Roswell said: "A good percentage of it does have to do with staffing. So we know we have staffing shortages in a number of areas, including nurses, our registered nurses, our licensed practical nurses, and RCWs, etc. We know that staffing is a significant issue."

EMTs have offered several possible solutions to the issue over the years to the hospital establishment, but their concerns have been largely brushed aside. Some have even been hosting their own “town halls” to make the public aware of the problem. Many times, he says, people attend whose loved ones have been negatively impacted by the lengthy response times.

It’s hard to accept that so many people suffering medical emergencies are being rushed to hospitals by ambulance only to end up having to wait hours to be allowed to leave the ambulance and go into the emergency room for critical care. Although the problem has been getting worse lately, long wait times throughout the public healthcare system have long been one of Canadians’ top complaints.

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