The parking lot at the Cape Breton Regional Hospital was so full Wednesday that some people were illegally parked and ticketed.

Dr. Margaret Fraser described the scene inside the emergency department.

“It looks like an overcrowded hospital ward is what it looks like,” Fraser said. “There are patients in front of the ice machine, there are patients down in the back hallways on stretchers. Everywhere you look, there's some poor person lying on a stretcher trying to get better. It's a bit of a disaster.”

For the second time in less than a week, paramedics union president Michael Nickerson sent out a code critical alert.

Wednesday morning, there were only three ambulances available to respond to calls in the entire Cape Breton Regional Municipality.

At one point last week, that number was zero.

“I think people are starting to get alarmed,” Nickerson said. “That wasn't our intention. We do not want people to be alarmed. We do not want people to not call 911 if they have to. If you have an emergency call 911. You will get an ambulance, it just may take a little while.”

Karen Poulin has had to wait during recent trips to the ER in Sydney.

“I've tried to use ER services here many times and I’ve waited up to 13, 14, 16 hours,” Poulin said.

She now makes the five-hour trip to Halifax to see her family doctor.

“I really don't like the travel at all, but I'm back in Cape Breton to look after my mom,” Poulin said. “She's my only relative left here. I don't have a choice because where else am I going to get a doctor?”

The state of health care in Cape Breton has prompted outrage from the community. A protest is planned for outside the hospital Thursday morning at 11 a.m.

Fraser says she supports the rally, but thinks it's highly unlikely much will change.

Fraser has sometimes worked on her off days to meet the demand at the hospital since ER departments at others in Cape Breton were closed.

“I'm exhausted, for a variety of reasons. But yeah, I'm exhausted,” Fraser said.

The code critical for ambulances was lifted Wednesday afternoon.

Michael Nickerson from the paramedics union says there have been 256 code criticals across the province since they started tracking low ambulance numbers about a year ago.

With files from CTV Atlantic’s Kyle Moore.