Photo By: Yassine Khalfalli from Unsplash

Niagara EMS is dealing with significant operational challenges and rising call volume that far outnumbers those experienced over much of the last two years. With the significant rise of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations across the province and region, EMS has had to adjust in order to continue successfully serving the region.

One of the most significant operational difficulties that Niagara’s healthcare system is currently facing is the consequence of the combined impact of increased call volumes and severe offload delays experienced across all Niagara Health facilities. These offload delays reflect the time it takes for patients to receive access to a bed after being admitted, with paramedics frequently waiting with patients for hours for them to be placed in a bed. While paramedics wait, they are unable to assist other possible patients or respond to EMS calls.

Among the adjustments that have been made, dispatchers will now be deferring certain calls to the emergency communication nurse, who will discuss other care options beyond EMS service.

According to EMS, this may result in lengthier wait times for non-life-threatening situations requiring a secondary evaluation by a nurse. Additionally, in most cases, unless the patient requires emergency treatment, an ambulance will not be summoned.

Niagara’s health system has also seen a significant number of people in emergency rooms who do not require that level of treatment and could instead get it from their family doctor or another primary care provider. 

Several of these individuals are seeking a COVID-19 test while having minor or no symptoms. These types of requests are also mirrored in the increased number of calls that EMS has been receiving in recent weeks.

To minimise the spread of the virus, residents are encouraged to stay at home and rest while self isolating. Those who require assistance should contact their primary care provider for advice on how to manage symptoms at home. 

Residents are also reminded that the province has revised the COVID-19 PCR testing requirements. Only high-risk individuals who are symptomatic or at risk of severe illness from COVID-19, including for the purposes of confirming a COVID-19 diagnosis and initiating treatment, as well as workers and residents in high-risk settings and vulnerable populations, are now eligible for a publicly funded PCR test. 

While dispatchers and paramedics respond to 911 calls as quickly as they can, some non-life-threatening, non-time-critical calls will likely also take longer to serve, with expected wait times occasionally reaching several hours. Niagara EMS is encouraging callers to only dial 911 in an emergency so that resources remain available for those who are in pertinent and immediate need.

Residents are encouraged to monitor Niagara Health’s COVID-19 information page to keep up to date with the latest guidelines and statistics of the virus’ spread in the region. A list of primary care providers that residents can engage with is also available on Niagara Health’s website.