The union representing paramedics on P.E.I. has met with the premier to discuss what it's calling a "critical shortage" of staff.
CUPE Local 3324 president Jason Woodbury says paramedics are taking on more responsibility during the pandemic and dealing with a nearly 40 per cent rise in 911 calls since 2015.
"That's putting a strain on the whole ground ambulance system, particularly with staffing. We've provided 10 positions throughout the COVID-19 pandemic to provide COVID-19 swab and testing, and by taking those 10 positions out it made the system more fragile," he said.
"The system has been fragile prior to the pandemic and I think we've seen in all settings of health care that the pandemic really shows … how fragile the health-care system here on Prince Edward Island is."
In addition to helping with testing, one paramedic works overnight at the emergency department at Western Hospital in Alberton.
The union is also meeting next week to discuss plans for four to eight paramedics to work in mobile mental-health units and another eight at the emergency department at Prince County Hospital in Summerside.
Service response times rise
Woodbury said paramedic response times are getting longer. According to the province, the average is at about 10 minutes, but can be as long as 15 minutes in rural parts of the province.
He said the reason for the longer response time is staffing and the rise in 911 calls.
Island EMS said in an emailed statement to CBC News: "We currently have adequate capacity at Island EMS and have recruited an additional eight paramedics to off-set summer vacations, support for new initiatives and other absences.
"Higher call volumes have contributed to an increase in service response times. This increase is not due to inadequate staffing levels."
An official with King's office said the province hopes to work closely with the union to improve health-care services on P.E.I.
The union called on the province to introduce a recruitment and retention strategy for paramedics, much like it has for doctors and nurses.
That could include signing bonuses and financial help to off-set training costs. It also wants the province to add a dedicated ambulance for off-Island transfers.
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