St. John’s paramedics demand action

·3 min read

The union representing paramedics in St. John’s says that after seven years of protesting lack of staff and a shortage of resources, its members have had enough.

A protest held Friday at the Health Sciences Centre in St. John’s was sparked largely by a briefing note sent from Eastern Health to the Department of Health three months ago.

The document, unveiled by the CBC through an access-to-information request, suggests little has been done since an independent report on paramedic services by Pomax Consulting was released in 2015.

Its opening sentence talks about how increased call volumes have left the St. John’s region “dangerously understaffed.”

In a fiery speech to about 50 paramedics and supporters, Jerry Earle, president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Public and Private Employees (NAPE), said the number of red alerts — periods of time an ambulance is not available — has been staggering.

“In a 12-month period, this briefing note describes 2,022 situations of red alert of varying degrees,” said Earle. “Two thousand and twenty-two times when the general population was put at risk. Two thousand and twenty-two times when these paramedics knew they were needed and could not respond because they were dealing with other emergencies. It could be your family. It could be your child. It could be your loved one or your spouse. It could be a choking situation or a motor vehicle situation. That is not acceptable and it cannot go on for seven days longer, let alone seven years longer.”

Earle said he was frustrated to see Liberal Leader Andrew Furey bring a radiologist in front of cameras on the west coast recently during a campaign stop to talk about things the Liberal government has implemented.

“I’ve asked publicly and I’ll ask again, can a paramedic stand in front of this microphone and tell you what has not been implemented?” Earle asked. “Mr. Furey, can a paramedic do that, just the same as a radiologist on the west coast did? Because as of today, they cannot speak publicly about their concerns.”

Earle said the problems aren’t just in the metro region, and other health authorities don’t even keep track of the number of red alerts.

“On the Northern Peninsula just last year, we had a person waiting for an ambulance for 90 minutes,” he said. “While I was on talking to an open line host earlier in the week, a resident in Gander … sent me a message, and I was reading it. He said, ‘Gerry, thank you very much for speaking up for paramedics, but thank you for speaking up for me as well. I ran my hand through a table saw and 28 minutes later I was being told there was still no ambulance available.’”

NAPE secretary-treasurer Trevor King told the crowd he was surprised to learn that only one paramedic in the last few years has retired.

“What does that tell you for the stress and strain of the career you’ve chosen?” he said.

“The governments, no matter which party it is, got to stop playing politics. When you get recommendations that are for me, my family and the community around us, and for the first responders to be able to do their job, then follow it through. Stop playing politics with the lives of the people of the province.”

Paramedics in the crowd were reluctant to talk to the media.

After the speeches, the group walked single file along Prince Philip Drive, where several drivers gave them a show of support by sounding their horns.

Peter Jackson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Telegram