The $74 billion ten-year health care deal between the Ontario and the federal government is a positive step but the funds must be immediately used to improve paramedic services and bolster the public health care system, says Niko Georgiadis, the chair of the CUPE Ontario Ambulance Committee that represents the majority of paramedics in the province.

“Paramedics and dispatchers continue to feel abandoned by the provincial government. Due to chronic underfunding, we were struggling to serve our communities even before the pandemic,” says Georgiadis, a frontline paramedic. “The surge in 911 calls in the past three years without a corresponding increase in staffing levels has exacerbated the crisis. We are seeing a disturbing rise in Code Zero* incidents, when there are no ambulances available to respond to 911 calls.”

Georgiadis says he hopes the province, which covers 50 per cent of funding for paramedic services, will use the immediate funding injection of $773 million by the federal government to provide relief to paramedics who were enduring harsh working conditions to meet patient needs.

“Most paramedics across Ontario are working at a feverish pace. It’s taken a toll on our mental health and resulted in a growing recruitment and retention crisis,” he says. “It’s normal for paramedics to work 12-hour shifts without breaks, or to be forced into working over-time because there aren’t enough staff. It’s not sustainable.”

According to Georgiadis, paramedics would also benefit from improvements to other parts of the health care sector, as their jobs intersect with gaps in hospitals, primary care, long-term care and other sub-sectors. But he says it’s important for the federal funds to be strings-attached to bolster the public system.

“We are concerned about the Ford government’s new legislation that will expand privatization. Every dollar that goes into profits is a dollar wasted. The federal funds must be invested in our public health system, not to pad investors’ pockets,” he says.

Background info

  • Call volumes for paramedics at an average of 4% per year between 2010-2019, according to a study published last year in the Canadian Journal of Medical Emergencies. However, in 2021 call volumes increased by 10 per cent or more in multiple regions including Waterloo, Peterborough and Hastings-Quinte.
  • In an October 2021 CUPE survey of 1,440 paramedics and other emergency medical services staff, 92 per cent of paramedics said they did not have staff to meet the needs of their communities, and 84 per cent said their workloads are impacting their mental/physical health.
  • Paramedics accounted for 15 per cent of all WSIB mental stress injury claims in 2021, despite constituting 0.002 per cent of the workforce covered by WSIB.
  • CUPE represents more than 6,500 paramedics and dispatchers across 23 municipal services across Ontario.
  • In Ontario, there isn’t a standardized term for instances of zero ambulance availability. In some regions, these incidents are referred to as Code Blacks or Code Reds.