Health Minister Dr. John Haggie has received his fair share of slings and arrows from health-care sectors over the past year, but at least one group was happy to throw him a bouquet on Tuesday, Oct. 12.
The union representing paramedics says Haggie’s announcement of new initiatives to alleviate staff shortages and response-time delays is just what the doctor ordered — even if they’ve known all along what was needed.
“It is a significant step in the right direction,” Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Public and Private Employees (NAPE) president Jerry Earle said Tuesday.
“It is clear they have listened to what the paramedics have said,” he added.
“You’ve got to recognize that there’s a problem in order to address it, and I believe — after listening to frontline paramedics — they’ve heard loud and clear.”
NAPE, which represents a broad swath of paramedics in health authorities across the province, said a meeting with the minister two weeks ago seemed to make all the difference, after numerous protests and warnings seemed to fall on deaf ears.
“It’s difficult to say why it’s taken so long. What I’d like to say now is at least they are listening. They are paying attention to concerns. And they’ve included frontline paramedics,” Earle said.
For his part, Haggie agreed that hearing from paramedics directly was an “eye-opener” for many in his department.
“They are first responders and see things that few people could or should have to deal with,” Haggie said during a news conference in which he announced a third vehicle will be added to Eastern Health’s first-responder fleet.
Combined with two other rigs announced recently, the move will add about 25 new paramedic positions to the core St. John’s region.
Haggie said a different approach will be needed to address mental-health concerns of paramedics, given the traumatic situations they deal with.
“We heard very clearly that the needs of paramedics and first responders are different in terms of who they can talk to,” he said.
The Department of Health and Community Services will work with NAPE and other agencies to establish a dedicated, 24-hour service to match their needs, he said.
During the news conference, Haggie revealed statistics that back up much of what paramedics have been saying for more than a year.
The numbers show that less than 10 per cent of the province’s ambulances — those in the metro region — are handling 50 per cent of the emergency calls.
Furthermore, offload delays have been creeping up. In December 2020, about 15 per cent of transports resulted in some sort of delay at the emergency department. That number increased to 17 per cent by September 2021.
Haggie said Eastern Health has added extra capacity for offloading patients at the Health Sciences Centre to help cut down on the bottleneck.
The extra vehicles will help address an increase in the need to find alternative deployment for calls when an ambulance isn’t available, such as seconding vehicles from areas outside the city.
That statistic more than doubled over the same span of time, from 3.6 per cent of calls to 8.6 per cent in the past three months.
“These statistics confirm exactly what the frontline paramedics were saying,” Earle told The Telegram. “We didn’t need to see the statistics.”
Haggie said the Education Department is also arranging to double the number of seats for advanced-care paramedics at the College of the North Atlantic, from 24 to 48.
But Haggie was quick to emphasize the statistics should not discourage anyone from seeking help if they need it.
“The one message at the end of this is that if you call an ambulance, one will come,” he said. “If you need help, call and there will be a response.”
Peter Jackson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Telegram