A 91-year-old Montreal woman died over the weekend after waiting seven hours for an ambulance and her family is now blaming ongoing staffing shortages within paramedic services.

The death comes as paramedics in Montreal and Laval have started pressure tactics over their working conditions.

On Saturday evening, Therese Pardiac injured her leg after a fall and when she couldn’t stand her family called for an ambulance.

But by the time it arrived, seven hours later, Pardiac had passed away.

"The two paramedics who came [were] so sad and [sorry] about the situation talking at our kitchen table about what happened to the paramedics," said Pardiac's daughter-in-law, Jezebel Daupeux Bourg.

Urgences-Santé said Pardiac’s call was re-evaluated multiple times and was considered low priority on each occasion.

The call was "also re-evaluated by a nurse at Info-Santé, which is standard procedure to have a secondary triage. After that, the priority remained also the same," said Vincent Brouillard, chief of operations for Urgences-Santé's call centre.

On average, Urgences-Santé is short-staffed by around 30 per cent every night due in part to a lack of new recruits and workers absent due to COVID-19. Paramedics are routinely forced to work overtime and work through their lunch breaks, which means it's hard to give adequate care when they're tired and over-worked.

Summer nights on weekends are particularly challenging due to a higher volume of calls. 


"It’s saddening, really, because we’re all trying to do the best we can. No one's taking care of us but they expect us to take care of the population," said paramedic Giorgio Stilitano.

"But if no one‘s taking care of us we won’t be there to take care of the population has exactly what's happening."

The union said more and more workers are leaving the profession, making the situation even worse.

"They’re just there just fed up with the whole situation. We are getting a little over 1,000 calls per day and we’re missing staff," said Luc Beaumont, a union spokesperson.

Urgences-Santé spokesman Stephane Smith said another 16 paramedics are expected to join the service soon, but adds that it's "never enough."

As of Monday, the union has started applying pressure tactics by asking its members to take their full 45-minute lunch break. Beaumont said it's part of the collective agreement and should not affect the health and safety of the public.

Claude Lamarche, interim president of the Syndicat du préhospitalier affiliated with the Confederation of National Trade Unions (SP-CSN), told The Canadian Press that these lunches are often reduced, cancelled, or have to be eaten while "caught in traffic congestion" in an ambulance that has just transported a patient and is therefore not very clean.

"The order does not allow for a full lunch break," he said, "because we must always maximize service to the public, but it will still allow for a slightly longer lunch break than the employer requires, which means half an hour."

He added that workers are "exhausted" and some are "jumping ship right now."

"It's very worrisome," he said.

With files from The Canadian Press