New Brunswick is bringing emergency medical technicians, or EMTs, back to work on ambulances for non-urgent transports.
EMTs require nine weeks of training compared to the 50 weeks it takes to become a paramedic. They will be allowed back on ambulances for the first time since they were deemed to need more training in 2007, but will have a more limited role.
Starting early in 2023, ambulances transporting people to medical appointments or home from surgery will be staffed by one paramedic and one EMT instead of two paramedics. Those units will perform "low-acuity, non-urgent transports," according to the Department of Health.
"Given the shortage of health professionals that exists across jurisdictions, including paramedics, EMTs are being reintroduced to bolster [Ambulance New Brunswick's] workforce," said department spokesperson Adam Bowie.
The new EMT training program by Medavie will begin this fall. It involves seven weeks of classroom training followed by a two-week practicum.
The move is part of New Brunswick's new health-care plan aimed at reducing chronic wait times and increasing access to primary care.
The first EMTs to go through the training will be ready to work around January and will immediately be used to fill 24 jobs, said Derek Cassista, president of the Paramedic Association of New Brunswick,
"Twelve weeks from when the education starts, these folks will be in uniform, oriented to the paramedic system, and hired," he said.
What is a non-urgent transport?
Cassista said there are two ways ambulances are used.
The first is for emergency transport, when someone calls 911. The second is through a non-emergency line, where long-term care home operators, for example, can schedule an ambulance to transport residents to medical appointments. Non-urgent units also transport people after surgery.
These transports are not what paramedics should be doing, according to Cassista.
"There's a definite design flaw and a misuse of resources there," he said.
Ideally, EMTs should be solely in charge of non-urgent transports, with no paramedic involvement, Cassista said.
"We need to redesign the way we transport these types of patients. We should not be using ambulances, we should not be using paramedics," he said.
"Why aren't we using a smaller shuttle-type vehicle to move these types of patients? And an EMT is a perfect candidate to do that."
Bowie said if a patient's condition deteriorates during a non-urgent transport "the EMT will be paired with a paramedic who can apply their higher scope of practice and skill level to treat the patient."
Not a replacement in an emergency
New Brunswick has not had any working EMTs since 2007, Cassista said.
That year, the system was standardized to require paramedic training as "the minimum level of care" on ambulances, Bowie said.
Cassista said the EMTs working back then either went back to school to become paramedics or found other work.
He said as EMTs are brought back next year, the association is making sure they will work exclusively on non-urgent calls.
"We don't support the use of EMTs as a replacement for paramedic-level care in the emergency system," he said.