'At a breaking point': Kingston, Ont. paramedics facing more calls, need more resources, union warns

Paramedics in the Kingston region are calling for more money and resources to help them deal with calls. 

The paramedics' union says they’re struggling to keep up with a significant increase in call volumes. 

"Frontenac Paramedic Service is currently in crisis," explains OPSEU Local 462 acting president Dave Doran. "They are at their breaking point and need to be supported."

The COVID-19 pandemic, the opioid crisis and an aging population are all leading to an increase in calls for service.

Doran says workers are facing burnout. 

"Crews are just dropping off patients at the hospital, and being called right back out to service other calls," he explains. "There’s no downtime in between calls."

The Frontenac Paramedics are responsible for a large zone, from North Frontenac to islands like Wolfe Island in the south, a nearly two hour drive from one part of the region to the other. 

For a population of approximately 150,000 across all its zones, there are 150 full time and part time paramedics. According to County of Frontenac, there are 23,000 calls logged a year, and the volume is expected to increase year over year over the next decade. 

Most of the calls for paramedics are from Kingston, and Doran says there are times when they can’t respond as quickly to the rural areas.

"This has become a public safety issue for Kingston and Frontenac County," he explains.

In a statement to CTV News, Frontenac County officials say to address the issue they’ve hired a number of paramedics and have been training them. They’re expected to start within the next month. 

“The County of Frontenac takes the health and welfare of all our employees seriously,” writes Kelly Pender, Chief Administrative Officer, County of Frontenac. "Including dedicated front-line paramedics and long-term care staff. The pandemic has had far-reaching implications for every front-line healthcare worker in the Province."

He also says the recent budget has approved hiring more paramedics and includes a new station to improve coverage. 

"By working proactively with the province and by planning for service growth, we can best ensure the highest level of service possible to the residents we serve." 

But Doran says this won’t be enough as paramedics retire and calls for more staff and vehicles on the road. 

"Our paramedics are at their breaking point," he says. "They come every day eager to serve the public but the call volumes are beyond what can be handled by the amount of ambulances that we have.

"We need to staff those ambulances and we need to add those ambulances so we can serve the community appropriately."