A shortage of paramedics and delays in unloading patients in northern New Brunswick are forcing paramedics from Quebec to come and lend a hand more often, which has elected officials on both sides of the border worried.
"It is certain that for us, it is disappointing," Normand Pelletier, the former mayor of Dalhousie, who was elected mayor of the new municipality of Baie-des-Hérons in November, said in French.
Pelletier denounces the fact area residents often have to wait sometimes an hour before receiving urgent care. Often, paramedics from Quebec have to come to the rescue, he said.
In Quebec, Pointe-à-la-Croix Mayor Pascal Bujold recently shared a post on Facebook claiming that paramedics in his area had to respond to an urgent call in Baie-des-Hérons, about a 30-minute drive northwest, leaving only one other team stationed in his region.
"Recently, Pointe-à-la-Croix paramedics have been responding frequently in New Brunswick with ambulances from Quebec travelling to Balmoral, Dalhousie, Tide Head, Atholville, Val-d'Amour and even New Mills," Bujold wrote.
I am for mutual aid, it is important that we all help each other, but not at any price, not at the risk and peril of my citizens either. - Pascal Bujold, Pointe-à-la Croix mayor
"I am for mutual aid, it is important that we all help each other, but not at any price, not at the risk and peril of my citizens either," he said in an interview in French.
The use of Quebec paramedics for emergency calls in New Brunswick is not new, according to David Gagnon, who represents paramedics with the Canadian Union of Public Employees (FTPQ-CUPE 7300).
"It seems that [the frequency] is quite variable but that the number of interventions is increasingly [high]," he said in an email.
Gagnon said the lack of personnel in New Brunswick explains this situation, but there is also a shortage in Quebec, and we're only seeing the tip of the iceberg that we're about to hit.
Pelletier believes the problem also arises when paramedics from Restigouche are called to assist in other regions of New Brunswick.
"When you come in to work in the morning, you expect to work in Restigouche. [If] you went to Chaleur or the peninsula or Madawaska to help in the other regions of the province, we are already short of manpower in Restigouche as it is there," he said. "I find it disappointing and frustrating."
The company that employs the province's paramedics, Medavie, says staffing shortages can impact normal operations.
But spokesperson Éric Robichaud said "dynamic deployment" ensures ambulance coverage where it is needed.
"It quickly adapts to various scenarios and ambulances are continually repositioned as needed to mitigate risk and ensure regions remain covered," he said in an emailed statement.
Medavie has good relationships with paramedic organizations in Quebec and these workers can come and help their colleagues in New Brunswick, and vice versa, when possible, he added.
The labour shortage affecting New Brunswick hospitals also complicates the task of paramedics. At the Campbellton Regional Hospital — like other hospitals in the province — paramedics often have to wait hours for patients to be seen, during which time they are unavailable to respond to other calls.
"At some point, people are starting to get a little fed up with the situation with the Campbellton hospital," said the Pointe-à-la-Croix mayor.
The mayor of Baie-des-Hérons lays the blame not only on Medavie but also on the Vitalité Health Network and demands that concrete efforts be made in terms of recruitment.
"When you arrive at the regional hospital and there are six ambulances waiting to discharge clients, that doesn't help the situation either," said Pelletier.
"There is a big, big shortage of staff and we will have, with Vitalité and Medavie, to sit down and find solutions to these problems," he said.
Vitalité acknowledged delays in unloading ambulances is a complex and systemic problem and said it's working with its partners to find solutions.