Unless Ottawa hospitals hire more than 3000 staff, yearly spiking emergency room wait times at hospitals like The Ottawa Hospital Civic Campus, unprecedented staffing shortages fueled by resignations, job vacancies, increasing needs, and higher paramedic call volumes will deepen as the population grows and ages, said the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) at a media conference today.

CUPE based its call for the 3000 new hospital staff hires in Ottawa, on government and hospital data available. Ontario Health numbers also show that emergency room wait times at Ottawa’s Civic Hospital are above the provincial average, which has consistently spiked and is now at 20.7 hours since the Doug Ford PC’s have been in government. Ontario ER wait times have increased by 47% in the last year alone.

The recent temporary closures at the Montfort and hospitals in Almonte, Perth-Smith’s Falls, Alexandria, and Kemptville will “only intensify” under the current health human resource strategy of the PC provincial government, CUPE said.

“So far, the provincial government has not shown the urgency or commitment to public health care required to develop a hospital workforce retention plan to stabilize capacity in our public hospitals. That would require them to improve working conditions in order to stop the bleeding of staff. This includes increasing wages, full-time employment and lowering workloads. Then the number of resignations would go down and hospitals would not have to recruit so many new staff to deal with the unprecedented turnover rates and increased needs of an ageing and growing population,” said Dave Verch, a registered practical nurse (RPN) and first vice-president of CUPE’s Ontario Council.

Long emergency room wait-times result in “offload delays” for paramedics, who are unable to safely transfer patients to the care of hospital staff. Offload delays combined with understaffing at paramedic services and rising call volumes are subsequently causing critical ambulances shortages.

Across Ontario, demand for paramedic services has increased by 40 per cent over the past decade due to pressures of an underfunded health system and an ageing population. In Ottawa, the situation is more stark as in 2022 alone call volumes have risen by 25 per cent without a corresponding increase in staffing levels. 

According to CUPE 503, which represents approximately 600 paramedics in Ottawa, 30 staff need to be hired annually for the next four years to ensure adequate service levels. 

“The Ontario provincial government must make sufficient investments in paramedic staffing levels and hospital capacity to ensure people get an ambulance when they really need it. The high number of Code Zero incidents over the past several years show a dire need for more resources, as paramedics struggle to keep up with rising demand,” says Carrie Lynn Poole-Cotnam, secretary-treasurer of CUPE Local 503, which represents approximately 600 paramedics in Ottawa.

To keep hospital emergency rooms and other units from closing and to decrease the time paramedics spend offloading patients at hospitals, overall, across Ontario, 46,000 more hospital staff must be hired just to deal with a 14.95% hospital staff turnover rate, the very high number of hospital job vacancies, the impacts of COVID and long COVID, and the increased needs of an aging and growing population.