ACUTE UNDERSTAFFING: Rural ambulances out of service for 17,000 hours in October, report

A union that represents hundreds of rural paramedics is once again sounding the alarm and calling out the province, after a report showed that during a single month last fall rural ambulances in the province were out of service for a combined 17,000 hours.

In a media release on Thursday the Manitoba Association of Health Care Professionals (MAHCP) said that an internal report shows that rural ambulances were out of service for a combined 17,000 hours last October, saying that number represents a “five-year-high” for a one-month period.

MAHCP said the lost hours are due to staff shortages and the union added they see no signs that the situation will improve anytime soon.

In the release, MAHCP President Bob Moroz called out the province and Shared Health for what he said has been “no action on the rural paramedic staffing crisis.”

“The Manitoba Government refuses to address the staffing crisis that is overwhelming rural paramedics,” Moroz said. “Despite MAHCP sounding the alarm repeatedly since last summer, which included a meeting with Health Minister Audrey Gordon, there has been no official response to or acknowledgment of this growing crisis.

“Government needs to act now to ensure the rural paramedic workforce doesn’t collapse from acute understaffing. It is Manitobans that will pay the price for the government’s inaction.”

Moroz added staffing shortages are having negative effects on the paramedics who are serving rural communities in Manitoba, and on the level of care they are able to provide.

“During the pandemic rural paramedics have worked unprecedented levels of overtime and continue to do so, but they can’t keep up,” he said.

A rural paramedic who works in the Southern Health region, and who did not want their identity revealed because of fear of repercussions told the Winnipeg Sun back in September that in the Southern Health region there have been ongoing and severe staff shortages that have been compounded by employee burnout, and employees consistently calling in sick to work.

That same paramedic sent an email to the Winnipeg Sun on Thursday responding to MAHCP’s press release, but again asked to not have their identity revealed.

“EMS is well into a state of emergency, and we have nowhere to draw resources to put the trucks on the roads,” the paramedic wrote in their email

In the email, the paramedic said that since they came forward with their complaints in September “nothing has changed” and claimed paramedics have not felt like their concerns are being taken seriously by the province or by Shared Health.

“The staffing crisis is getting worse and worse and nobody is doing anything to change that. There are ambulances shut down every day in the province and in the Southern region due to staff shortages.

“That creates huge gaps in coverage and extended response times.”

The paramedic said the staff shortages are directly affecting the levels of care that paramedics are providing in rural Manitoba.

“Citizen’s lives are being put at risk, and in danger.”

The Winnipeg Sun reached out to Shared Health asking for an interview, or for a response to the report.

“Staffing of emergency response services has long been a challenge in some rural parts of the province, with efforts underway to recruit staff to provide 24/7 paramedic coverage in order to reduce Manitoba’s reliance on overtime or on-call staffing,” a Shared Health spokesperson said in an email.

“As COVID has progressed, existing staff vacancies have been exacerbated at various points in time by staff sick calls and individuals who are unable to work either due to COVID-19 diagnosis, symptoms or exposure.

“These out of service timeframes are spread out across the province’s entire fleet, and are related to a number of factors including long-term vacancies, sick calls, fatigue and other factors. Manitobans can be assured that emergency response services remain available to them.”

The Winnipeg Sun also requested a response or interview from Gordon, but was not provided with either before Thursday’s press deadline.

— Dave Baxter is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Winnipeg Sun. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.

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