By JAYMIE L. WHITE
Special to the Appalachian
BAY ST. GEORGE – Health and Community Services Minister, John Haggie, said on Oct. 12 that there are many issues facing paramedics today, issues which are causing a further strain on the province’s already struggling healthcare system.
“Paramedics have been challenged by increased demand, and they’ve been held up by delays in the emergency room with offloading, and this affects response times,” said Haggie.
Statistics obtained from Eastern Health through the Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD) system found that offload delays in the region have increased by 28.3 per cent since last year, total calls have increased by 13.6 per cent, and call wait times have increased from 3.6 per cent to 8.6 per cent. Haggie said the data is concerning but that necessary steps are being taken.
“This data sends us a strong message that we need to keep on this and maybe do more. We feel we’re on the correct path to correct these issues,” said Haggie. “We are not alone in this search for demand. This is happening across the continent, it’s happening across the country, and these factors that we are experiencing here are similar to those you would see in Edmonton or Toronto.”
One of the strategies to deal with the issue is simply increasing class sizes for the Advanced Care Paramedicine Program from 12 to 24 seats per class while looking at the 63 seats in the Primary Care Paramedicine Program and seeing what number makes sense for a possible increase.
“These problems didn’t arise overnight, and they won’t be fixed overnight, but I think this is another step in the right direction,” said Haggie.
But that’s still more of a long-term solution and the problem is already significant. Decisions made to increase class sizes in 2020 will not be felt in the workforce until students graduate in the coming months.
Statistics for regions outside Eastern Health weren’t shared, but Stephenville Mayor Tom Rose believes the challenges facing this region are similar.
“I think this region is no different than other regions in the province,” said Rose. “We happen to be very fortunate that we do have a 24-hour emergency hospital that is close by.”
Rose said that there seems to be an issue with the demand being higher in the region than is currently able to be accommodated.
“There’s a rule of thumb that you need to be seeing specialists and doctors and nurses within 60 minutes, and if you don’t make it in 60 minutes you may not make it,” said Rose. “We aren’t at the point that the service delivery is responsive for all the needs. There are times where people may need the ambulance and the ambulance is not available. Sometimes that is because of equipment, but probably more often it is because of staffing, and that is a big provincial issue how that is handled.”
Rose said with an aging population it is even more important to ensure there are enough paramedics to respond.
“The government does try, but unfortunately right now, in reality, we are at a deficit when it comes to meeting the demands of the general public,” observed Rose.
Janiece Gillard, a part-time paramedic working in Stephenville, admitted that COVID-19 has caused stressors on the region’s paramedics, but it isn’t the only issue they face.
“I think the main thing is a lot of people are going away because the hours and the pay are not good when it comes to working with the ambulance service. When you work with an ambulance service everybody gets paid on salary,” said Gillard. “If you work a 24-hour shift on emerge you only get paid 11.42 hours, and if you work a 24-hour routine shift you get paid for 8, so I think that is a huge thing for most people. You are on call, so you get to go home, but you can’t go far.”
Gillard said the ambulance service is very busy and there doesn’t seem to be enough staff to keep up.
“We are really busy. We used to average around 300 plus calls a month. We don’t just do emergency, it’s also routine calls,” said Gillard. “If somebody from Flat Bay needs to get to an appointment in Corner Brook and aren’t mobile, we go pick them up, bring them there and back, and that takes a lot of time.”
Gillard said that with COVID, staffing issues have gotten increasingly more difficult to deal with because people were afraid to go to work and isolated themselves when they had any flu-like symptoms.
“Everybody is overworked and if you get one cold symptom at all you can’t go into work, so that is a huge issue too,” said Gillard. “It’s not a crisis at the moment but I think it’s going to get to that point, especially because of COVID.”