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Local paramedics call for province-wide staffing strategy

The head of a union representing about 300 local medics says they can't hire fast enough to fill growing gaps
Waterloo Region Paramedic Services 3
KitchenerToday file photo

As Ontario hospitals push the province for more help amid an ongoing staffing crisis, so too are Ontario paramedics.

Both are now calling for a province-wide staffing strategy spotlighting retention and recruitment.

"People just aren't choosing this as a profession as frequently any more," said Nick Desclouds, an active paramedic and president of CUPE 5191, which represents about 300 paramedics in Waterloo Region. "We're getting a decreased level of applicants and the people who enter this career don't stay in it for as long as we hope."

Like in the hospital system, staffing issues among paramedic programs are nothing new - though the fear is what's on the horizon should nothing be done to turn the tide.

As of October last year, a survey of CUPE paramedics in Waterloo Region found nine in ten said there was not enough staff -- even at that time -- to keep up with demand.

"We see down-staffing occurring almost on a daily basis and we're unable to hire medics at the rate that we need to, to get ahead of this healthcare crisis," Desclouds said.

He said it's shaping up like a perfect storm with paramedics being squeezed from many sides, though the main concern does continue to be how much time is spent transferring patients into the care of a hospital system that's also, lately, been overstretched, overburdened, and overwhelmed.

"If the emergency departments are closing beds than all of a sudden there's less beds available for paramedics... and that creates a bottleneck," said Desclouds. "With an increase in call volume in a growing and aging population, paired with offload delays increasing due to the hospital issues, it kind of compounds the problem we face."

In fact, CUPE claims last year alone, offload delays in Waterloo Region spiked by about 85 per cent. It says that has meant there are times when, should you pick up the phone and dial 911, there may not be an ambulance immediately available to respond.

The union also added this is all having a big impact on worker physical and mental stress.

"WSIB data suggests 15 per cent of all mental health stress-related claims are paramedics and when there's only 12,000 paramedics in the province of Ontario out of 8-million workers, that seems like a very, very concerning number."

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