Short-staffed and at breaking point, paramedics say in rally over resources

·3 min read
Paramedics in central Newfoundland rallied in Gander on Thursday over a lack of resources and staffing.  (David Newell/CBC - image credit)
Paramedics in central Newfoundland rallied in Gander on Thursday over a lack of resources and staffing. (David Newell/CBC - image credit)
David Newell/CBC
David Newell/CBC

Paramedics in central Newfoundland are rallying over what they're calling a breaking point in the emergency response system, saying they're constantly on call, short-staffed and under-resourced.

On Thursday paramedics protested outside the James Paton Memorial Regional Health Centre in Gander along with NAPE union representatives to call on the provincial government and Central Health to address a shortage of on-duty ambulances and paramedic staff.

In July, paramedics in the Eastern Health region raised similar concerns, related mostly to overflowing and lengthy wait times inside emergency rooms in hospitals in St. John's, but also pointed their fingers at a lack of paramedics across the province.

NAPE president Jerry Earle told CBC News "Band-Aid solutions" are not acceptable and the union and its members want action taken to alleviate their concerns.

"We're done talking. We want to see action. We don't want to see more reports and investigations," Earle said.

"We got to get to the root cause and address this. These paramedics, these women and men, deserve it and the citizens of Newfoundland and Labrador deserve an appropriate response when they have an emergency, not waiting extended periods of time."

More resources

Earle said red alerts — meaning no ambulances are available to take emergency calls — are frequent and unacceptable.

He said Central Health did post eight temporary full-time jobs for paramedics on Wednesday, but was critical over the temporary aspect of the posting.

"There are insufficient ambulance units in strategic locations," said Earle.

"You can only imagine here in Gander, central Newfoundland with that Trans-Canada [Highway] and a population approaching 20,000, a single ambulance at the hospital and a secondary crew responding as stand-by, that is not appropriate."

Garrett Barry/CBC
Garrett Barry/CBC

Multiple paramedics are currently off work from being physically and mentally injured, Earle continued. Without wanting to be an alarmist, he said, the public should be concerned over the potential for ambulances to not be readily available in the event of emergency situations.

The frequency of ambulances being unavailable is the alarming issue, he said.

"We know it's happening, the statistics [are] there ... but it seems for some reason pre-hospital care is not getting the attention it deserves," Earle said.

When it boils down to dollars and cents, Earle said the province will save money long-term by bolstering paramedic staff, as some paramedics currently work overtime on stand-by for 24 hour shifts. He said that design is costly, ineffective and unsafe for workers.

He said the money already exists within health authority budgets, pointing once again to the job postings by Central Health, which he claims listed those jobs knowing NAPE and its members would be protesting on Thursday.

"This is not about finding new resources. The money is in these budgets for these positions, but temporary solutions are not the answer," he said.

"They could pull these temporary positions by the middle of September if they wanted to. This is not about money, this is about appropriate resources and ambulance units strategically located to respond to emergencies."

Government 'in denial' of crisis: PC MHA

Newfoundland and Labrador's official opposition joined the call on government to address a shortage of doctors in the province Friday, with the party saying Health Minister John Haggie is "in denial about Newfoundland and Labrador's health-care crisis."

The call comes following recent comments from Haggie that the number of physicians in the province is increasing, and that the province is "blessed in terms of numbers per capita" with the number of physicians and nurses.

"Tell that to the 90,000 people who remain without a doctor in our province. The huge gap in access to a family physician only compounds the problems in our health-care system," PC MHA Paul Dinn said in a news release Friday.

Dinn called on Haggie to release an updated doctor recruitment plan for the province.

"Newfoundland and Labrador has unique challenges … If our strategy is the same as our Atlantic neighbours, then Newfoundland and Labrador risks losing out."

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