Original Published 15:02 Apr 13, 2022

By Dave Baxter, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

The head of a union that represents rural Manitoba paramedics says the province’s latest budget does not even come close to addressing the serious staffing shortages that continue to plague rural emergency departments and rural paramedics across this province.

The latest provincial budget, which was released by the province on Tuesday, includes plans to spend $7.6 million to hire 35 additional primary care paramedics.

But Bob Moroz, the president of the Manitoba Association of Health Care Professionals (MAHCP) a union that represents hundreds of rural Manitoba paramedics, said the province simply saying they will hire more paramedics isn’t doing enough, as the province also needs to focus on ways to train and hire more paramedics, and to keep them on the job.

“Thirty-five new paramedic positions were announced, but where are the paramedics coming from? We are not anywhere close to training enough paramedics to fill the vacancies we currently have,” Moroz said.

“What the government doesn’t seem to understand is that while expanded facilities can be helpful, the real issue that is impacting Manitoba’s health-care system is the lack of people behind it.

“We have been talking about the need to address training, recruitment, and retention even before the pandemic.”

And Moroz added that even if the province was able to hire 35 more paramedics, it would still be nowhere near enough to start fixing the rural paramedic shortages that he says continue in the province.

“In terms of the commitment of 35, even if we were able to hire that many, that’s barely a drop in the bucket of what is needed in this province,” he said.

“We estimate in rural Manitoba we are about 300 paramedics short, and in the Prairie Mountain region alone we are short 50 paramedics, so 35 really doesn’t even start to address this issue.

“Plus we know there will not be another 35 out there we can hire anyways, so what was missing was any sort of commitment to training and retaining paramedics.”

The budget also includes $11 million the province said they will use for strategies to increase the number of nursing students and nursing graduates in the province, and Moroz said he doesn’t understand why those same efforts aren’t being put into training paramedics for the job.

“We can appreciate the need for training more nurses, but training professionals in the many allied health disciplines are just as critical to our health-care system,” Moroz said.

Moroz has been raising the issue of rural paramedic staffing shortages for months now, and he said as the problems continue more and more of the rural paramedics they do represent are burning out and either taking time off or walking away from the field entirely.

“The big problem is that we are burning people out, and we are seeing stress leaves and early retirements,” he said. “And we are seeing some just walk away from it altogether and saying ‘I will do something else that is better for my mental health.’”

He said he is also worried that staffing shortages and issues of stress and burnout among rural paramedics is becoming so commonplace that people looking at career options won’t even want to consider being a paramedic in this province in the first place.

“When we have young people looking to get education and chase a career, well I would say this is not terribly enticing at the moment,” Moroz said “And again, if we don’t have the people, then we are not going to fill the positions that are available.

“We need to be thinking long-term, because those positions mean nothing if we don’t have the people.”

This item reprinted with permission from Winnipeg Sun, Winnipeg, Albert