After more than seven years of service, a central Labrador paramedic is leaving his job because of what he describes as an unbearable workload that has had a deep impact on his profession.
"I cannot handle it anymore. I've become very burnt out. I've reached my breaking point," said Cody Lucente, who is based in Happy Valley-Goose Bay.
Every two weeks, Lucente has put in 75 hours of regular work, but must also be on standby for another 75 hours in case he is called in at a moment's notice.
"It could be that I work 12 hours and then get called in two or three times with a half-hour or hour break between each one, just to come back into work and do another 12 hours," Lucente said in an interview.
"And then to do that again and again and again."
The hospital owns you when you work here. - Cody Lucente
Hefty overtime hours are not isolated incidents, and can be a constant aggravation for Labrador paramedics, he said.
"I've seen people do 14 and 20 days consecutively. And it leads to a high turnover and burnout, because they expect so much from you, you cannot have a life outside of work," he said.
"The hospital owns you when you work here."
Lucente will be leaving his job with Labrador-Grenfell Health in July. He is now deciding whether he wants to work for a different regional health authority in Newfoundland and Labrador, or accept an offer from Ontario.
'You realize your time is more valuable than money'
The demands of his current job are simply too much, he said.
"When you're 20, 21, it's not a problem. And as you get older you have family and you realize that your time is more valuable than the money," he said.
CBC News asked Health Minister John Haggie last week for an interview. He has not yet agreed to one.
Labrador-Grenfell Health said in a statement that while the authority cannot "comment on individual human resource matters, [it] is committed to a safe workplace and has a number of processes and supports in place — including working with unions — to resolve employee concerns."
There is a high turnover rate because of the working conditions, according to Lucente.
"Half the staff basically are new hires that revolve fairly quickly. And so when they're fresh out of school, they come, they're making all these overtime checks and they're like, 'oh my God, I'm making a lot of money,'" he said.
After the six-month mark, he said, new hires tend to lose their motivation to work because of burnout.
"They're like, 'oh my God, I can't handle it anymore.' They quit and move on and have a new set of new hires, that kind of repetitious cycle."
Dangerous working conditions and delays
NAPE, the union representing the paramedics in Labrador, is frustrated by the progress being made in improving working conditions.
"Understand this is an extremely stressful job. At the best of times, they attend to situations that most never see in our lifetime. So the work alone takes a toll on their mental and physical health," said NAPE President Jerry Earle.
Currently, there is one ambulance on standby to provide service to the nearby communities of North West River and Sheshatshiu.
If there are multiple calls at the same time, that ambulance would have to pick up the first patent, drop them off at the hospital at Happy Valley-Goose Bay, and then drive back to get the other calls — leading to delays for response times.
Lucente believes that, rather than relying on standby vehicles, the health-care system should have more fully staffed trucks on the road to spread out the workload and reduce overtime hours.
Increased paramedic fatigue can be dangerous for patients.
"When you're at that level of fatigue and exhaustion, the chance of an error is much higher," said Lucente.
It can also be dangerous for a paramedic who has to make the trip on Route 520, the only road connecting North West River and Sheshatshiu to Happy Valley-Goose Bay.
"I've had people start falling asleep while driving and had to do emergency stops at the highway and, you know, get out and do jumping jacks or stuff because you're falling asleep."