Paramedics in rural Manitoba continue to deal with severe staff shortages, employee burnout, unsustainable workloads, and a lack of support says a rural Manitoba paramedic who spoke out in 2021 about dire working conditions.

In 2021, the paramedic, who didn’t want to be identified, said they were dealing with “severe” staff shortages and employee burnout.

They also said that staff shortages at that time were being compounded daily by staff consistently calling in sick, and claimed many sick days were being taken because EMS workers were “burning out.”

And this week they say they have seen no improvements in working conditions since speaking out in 2021, while asking again that they not be identified.

“Have things gotten better? No. Simply no,” they said in an email to the Winnipeg Sun. “We are no farther ahead with staffing despite hiring a few people, because we have had many more quit in the same time.”

The paramedic claimed the staffing shortages are still so severe that some are being forced to perform tasks that should be performed by EMS workers with a higher level of training, and who work at a higher pay grade.

“What they are doing is piecemealing lower trained medics by giving them more responsibilities on more advanced procedures and medications, but with what I would call half-assed training,” the medic said.

“So there are more responsibilities with substandard education behind it, and with no bump in title or wage increases, they’re getting more from us for less payout. They’re essentially exploiting rural paramedics now.”

The paramedic said the staff shortages and working conditions are concerning because they are also leading to increased wait times for those looking for emergency care.

“We still have trucks responding upwards of 150 kilometres from their home station to 9-1-1 calls,” they said.

“These staff shortages will result in avoidable deaths eventually.”

Jason Linklater, president of the Manitoba Association of Health Care Professionals (MAHCP) which represents rural paramedics in Manitoba, said he agrees that working conditions have not improved since Sept. of 2021 for rural paramedics and claimed those issues continue to affect levels of service.

“It’s honestly terrible,” Linklater said. “First of all, they are the lowest paid paramedics in the country and paid significantly lower than Winnipeg paramedics.”

Linklater said he has heard stories of “excessive overtime,” but also about EMS equipment and vehicles that he said are “falling apart.”

“We have seen ambulances with worn out tires, patients being transferred with no heat in minus-30 weather, even drivers driving with no defrost, and having to scrape as they go,” Linklater said.

He said although many paramedics continue to work in rural Manitoba, he does not know how much longer some will last, because they a being pushed to their “breaking point.”

“Paramedics are some of the toughest people out there, and I truly believe they will stick things out to the bitter end, but they are being pushed more and more, and eventually more will leave.

“At some point they will be pushed over the edge.”

Meanwhile, Shared Health said they are working to improve the situation.

“Active negotiations continue with the union representing paramedics within emergency response services, to secure a new, fair and long-term contract that includes retroactive wage adjustments,” a statement from a Shared Health spokesperson read. “In the meantime, Shared Health has taken a number of steps to address the ongoing human resource needs being experienced across emergency response services and in other areas of the health system.

“Recruitment of paramedics remains a priority as well as efforts to increase educational capacity for high-demand professions within ERS and to strengthen partnerships with regulatory and educational institutions.”

Manitoba’s Health Minister did not reply to a request for comment.

By Dave Baxter, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Apr 25, 2023 at 15:40

This item reprinted with permission from    The Sun    Winnipeg, Manitoba
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