toronto ambulance shortage

Toronto actually ran out of ambulances this weekend and people are blaming Doug Ford

Imagine getting critically hurt or sick and calling 911 only to be told that — sorry! — you'll have to find your own way to the hospital on account of an ambulance shortage.

This would have been the case, should you have needed urgent medical care in Toronto on Saturday evening, according to first responders.

"#CodeRed," tweeted the Paramedic Services Unit of CUPE Local 416, a union representing Toronto's civic employees on January 8. "No units available in the city at 18:38 hours tonight."

The unnerving message spread quickly throughout Ontario, where cases of COVID-19 are at an all-time high and hospitals are growing overwhelmed, thanks in large part to the highly-contagious Omicron variant.

Residents of the province's largest city expressed fear, worry and anger in response to the TO Paramedic Union tweet, pointing their fingers in various directions.

Some are assigning the blame to politicians such as Toronto Mayor John Tory and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for failing to allocate resources.

Others of the far-right will contend that this is the result of mandatory vaccination policies for staff at hospitals and other public institutions — policies that have resulted in the firing of nearly 500 City of Toronto employees alone to date.

Others still are putting the blame squarely at the feet of those in Ontario who still refuse to get vaccinated against COVID-19 despite the safety of these shots and their effectiveness in minimizing severe symptoms and death due to the coronavirus.

Most, however, are chastising Ontario Premier Doug Ford for not shutting down non-essential businesses and waiting too long to reel back public health restrictions.

So who's actually to blame? All of the above? None of them at all?

Opinions may vary, but the paramedic union chair for CUPE Local 416 says that these problems have been a long time coming and that they've never been a secret.

"The problem is that the service has been, and services all across the GTA, basically have been inadequately staffed and funded for years. The union's been raising the alarm bells over this, myself personally for years, that in the event of a major crisis or disaster, they're screwed because they have no surge capacity in the system," Mike Merriman told CTV Toronto this weekend.

"Our members could barely handle the calls before COVID. And now when to COVID, they can't keep up and they're exhausted. The systems are a mess. I would say it is on the verge of collapse."

City of Toronto spokesperson Brad Ross said in a statement over the weekend that it's not uncommon anymore for all ambulances in Toronto to be busy at once.

"During busier periods, there will be delays in responding to low priority calls while paramedics respond to higher priority calls due to absences related to COVID-19," he said.

"There remains significant pressure in hospitals related to COVID-19 absences resulting in paramedics being delayed with off-loading patients. This issue is unfortunately common right now around the world."

In addition to paramedic shortages, Ontario is dealing with a dearth of healthcare professionals at hospitals, further delaying ambulances from leaving once they arrive, as EMS must take care of critically ill patients until doctors and nurses are available to see them.

The Registered Nurses Association of Ontario is now calling upon Ford to move the province back to Step 1 of his Roadmap to Reopening in an effort to stop the heavy flow of patients into hospitals, which are dealing with critical staff shortages thanks to both the pandemic and Bill 124.

"The system doesn't have enough RNs to deal with the Omicron crisis. At a critical time in this latest wave of new infections and staggering numbers, nurses who remain in their roles are continuing to prop up our health system as best they can - but just barely," wrote the RNAO in a release issued last week as Step 2 restrictions came back into effect.

"We do not want to think what will happen when Omicron reaches the elderly population in Ontario, which is only starting now. Nurses and the healthcare system are hanging on by a thread and it is only going to get worse. Lives are at stake."

Ontario reverted to Step 2 of the province's reopening framework last week on account of fast-rising case numbers, but many healthcare workers said it was too little, too late to prevent the hospital system from being overwhelmed.

As it turns out, they may have been right.

Lead photo by

Jack Landau

Latest Videos

Latest Videos

Join the conversation Load comments

Latest in City

Toronto's forecast for May is in and here's what the weather will be like

Toronto area's biggest transit boost in a decade comes with a major downgrade

Toronto's road closure and traffic situation is about to get much worse

Gardiner Expressway lane closures are already causing gridlock on other Toronto roads

Is Toronto losing its reputation as one of the world's cleanest cities?

Here are all the parking ticket changes coming to Toronto this summer

One of Canada's most dangerous plants is starting to bloom in Toronto

High Park cherry blossoms could finally bloom this weekend after being delayed