Paramedics chief says ER shortage affecting crews and community

Paramedics prepare their stretcher for the victim being removed from the car, January 21, 2022 (Dan Gray/

Stats coming out of the Paramedic service shine an even brighter light on the dark issues inside Sault Area Hospital emergency department.

After writing a story earlier this week about Sault Area Hospital’s staffing issues, concerned citizens asked to know more. Specifically, how it’s affecting paramedics and their ability to respond.

They wanted to know what are the implications of paramedics being tied up in emergency? Are they unavailable to respond to calls? Are response times lengthened? By how much? How often? Other consequences?

Before reaching out to Katie Kirkham, the Paramedic Chief, SaultOnline did some independent research.

Since last year, Sault Area Hospital has seen its wait times to offload patients increase drastically, as well as the number of patients being brought in by ambulance.

In January of last year, Paramedics spent 274 hours in a state of offload delay, which keeps them tied up at the hospital and unable to respond. In January of this year, that number climbed to 332 hours.

February and March weren’t notably better, with February seeing an increase of nearly 130%, from 237 minutes to 307 this year. The numbers in March climbed from 267 hours waiting to 406 this year, an increase of 150%.

Patients transported by ambulance to the hospital over the same three months didn’t increase according to the statistics provided by the paramedic service to DSSAB, their governing body.

Not only are the number of hours that see paramedics tied up increasing, but the volume of patients waiting over 30 minutes to have their care transferred to the hospital has also risen. Last year in March 102 patients waited over 30 minutes for a transfer.  This year,  the number nearly tripled to 296.

Kirkham gave this statement to SaultOnline in response to the questions raised above.

“Whenever the Emergency Department (ED) experiences high patient volumes and staffing shortages, it does impact our ability to provide adequate pre-hospital emergency care to the community. Generally, this takes the form of increased offload delays and extended response times to the community.

When paramedics are held in the ED, it means an available responding unit is taken out of our deployment plan for the duration of the offload delay. It reduces our capacity to respond to emergency calls in the community.

Fortunately, we have an excellent relationship with hospital staff, and several collaborative steps have been put in place to mitigate the problem of offload delays. For example, the ‘Fit-2-Sit’ program re-directs some of the patients from being on offload delay and instead moves them to the ED triage department.

Additionally, the ED recently implemented an offload delay nurse to take responsibility and care of some of the patients paramedics are bringing into  the department. Unfortunately, due to staffing shortages throughout the hospital, it hasn’t been possible to keep this position consistently staffed.

Paramedics have spent many hours on offload delays, despite these initiatives. There have been additional overtime costs and up-staffing of ambulance units to respond to calls in the community. Again, we continue to work with the hospital to devise solutions to these urgent matters.

We feel for our colleagues in the Sault Area Hospital Emergency Department as they deal with the shortages and support them in their initiatives to continue providing adequate services to the community.”

Stay with SaultOnline as we continue to document the struggles faced by our health care system in Sault Ste. Marie and the surrounding area.


  1. With a declining population and declining tax base, comes declining services. No need for a fire hall or ambulance services on every corner next to a Tim Horton’s…

  2. Maybe hospital staff and paramedics should t have been fired for their vaxx status !! all firhalls should have an ambulance not one central ambulance station .. it would cut down on time and fuel…hospital should drop the vaxx mandate maybe they could get more porters and nurses… wage increases??

  3. Other cities better utilize their paramedic resources by assigning a paramedic to the hospital for off-load delays where crews transfer their care to the off-load paramedic and go back into service rather quickly. Why is this not being done here? There is absolutely no need to see 6+ paramedics sometimes sitting around in the emergency department waiting for a nurse. Perhaps this is a better use of resources to place a paramedic in the ER for off-loads than wasting tax dollars on community paramedicine which is a program that is much better fitted for nurses who have the proper training.

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