About 30 paramedics from the private and public sector symbolically gathered behind NAPE president Jerry Earle and secretary-treasurer Trevor King during a press conference on the state of paramedicine in the province Thursday.
"Paramedics should not have to beg for help," said Earle, who leads the union representing more than 300 paramedics across Newfoundland and Labrador.
"We shall not beg any longer. To date, the silence of the minister [and] the government regarding the untenable situation the paramedics face has been deafening."
On behalf of paramedics who, as Earle said, can't speak for fear of reprimands, he made demands to both the provincial government and regional health authorities.
On NAPE's list: more staff and equipment; more mental health support, such as critical incident debriefs and peer-support training; a solution to offload delays at hospitals; the consistent publication of statistics regarding red alerts and response times.
The provincial paramedic system has been an issue of debate for years. An independent report published in 2015 showed that there weren't sufficient ambulances or paramedics dating back years.
According to Earle, the situation hasn't improved..
"We heard from paramedics with over 20 years of experience say 'this is the worst that I've ever seen it,'" he said.
In recent months, more reports of long ambulance wait times in front of hospitals have once again surfaced.
Health Minister John Haggie says his department has already begun to address the delays.
The Health Department added eight paramedics to Eastern Health's roster, created of an offload delay room at the hospital — where paramedics can hand over patients to avoid wait times — and increased training numbers for paramedics through the College of the North Atlantic.
Just before the COVID-19 pandemic, said Haggie, the Department of Health had also provided the Paramedics' Association of N.L. with $23,000 for mental health support.
"It's a challenging time, but there's a lot going on in the background," said Haggie, "and that is available immediately in some cases and will roll out, for example, with the new cadre of advanced care paramedics over the course of the next six months or so."
While Haggie says recent issues are connected to the COVID-19 pandemic and the summer vacation season, he acknowledges that the situation is taxing for paramedics.
"Certainly, this has been the most challenging summer of my entire tenure as minister of health, which goes back to the end of 2015."
At Thursday's press conference, Earle asked Haggie to meet with paramedics to hear first-hand accounts of their situation.
The number of sick leaves, says Earle, is telling.
"Right now, in the metro region alone, we have 18 paramedics … that are off, either physically or mentally injured. Can you imagine, that's 18 out of just over 100 paramedics," said Earle.
"I'm suggesting there's ones in this room that probably should be off."
Haggie says he's willing to meet with them. "It's important that we … hear the concerns of [Earle's] members because at the end of the day, the only way we're going to make the system better is if all of us work together," he said.
While Earle didn't say which actions will be taken by NAPE if its demands aren't addressed, he said the union expects to see immediate action from the provincial government.
"Every single day in communities across this province of ours, these workers are here for us. Now, we need to be there for them. The time for pleading has come to an end."
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