Better pay, more training opportunities needed to combat rural Manitoba paramedic shortage: union

The union representing rural Manitoba paramedics is renewing its calls to the province to bolster staffing, after a skydiving accident that left those on the scene waiting too long for an ambulance.

It took 36 minutes for emergency services to arrive at a tragic accident near Gimli, Man., over the weekend, a wait Shared Health said was much longer than its target response time.

It’s a situation the Manitoba Association of Health Care Professionals says happens all too often.

“At any given time, we know that we have about 20 to 25 per cent of our ambulances that are out of service due to staffing shortages,” union president Bob Moroz said.

Read more: Ambulance took 36 minutes to arrive at scene of Gimli skydiving accident: Shared Health

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The rural paramedic shortage is dire — a longstanding issue since before the pandemic, he said.

Ambulance wait times are growing, with the longest in the Interlake-Eastern Regional Health Authority and Prairie Mountain Health Region, according to a Shared Health report obtained by MAHCP over the winter.

As of December, one in 10 patients of the most urgent calls in the Interlake and Prairie Mountain were waiting more than 44 minutes. One in two were waiting more than 17.62 and 13.73 minutes, respectively.

Read more: Manitoba ambulances sitting idle due to staff shortages: Union raising alarm

“Our paramedics’ hearts break when they know, if they’re 30, 40 minutes away, they know what the call is that they’re going to,” Moroz told Global News on Thursday.

Rural paramedics are flocking to Winnipeg where the pay is up to 25 per cent better, or they’re leaving the profession entirely, he said.

“We need to really do what we can to recruit and retain them in the regions and in the north and provide better training opportunities in this province, make it a more attractive profession.”

Collective bargaining resumed in March, to work out a new agreement after the last one expired in 2018, Moroz said.

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Shared Health says its staffing challenges didn’t develop overnight and won’t be resolved overnight either.

The provincial health organization is shoring up recruitment efforts and working to train more personnel, a spokesperson said in an emailed statement on Wednesday.

Read more: Manitoba announces new EMS stations in Crystal City, Portage la Prairie

“A centralized recruitment team has been established to coordinate provincial recruitment of (Emergency Response Services) personnel from all disciplines, including paramedics,” they said.

“We are also working to increase educational capacity for high-demand professions within ERS and strengthening our partnerships with regulatory and educational institutions. These efforts, over time, will expand the group of potential employees who can join the workforce.”

When asked whether STARS was called, the spokesperson said the air ambulance service was responding to another call at the time of last Saturday’s accident in Gimli.

“The STARS helicopter is deployed based on specific triage criteria related to patient acuity, not staffing challenges on the ground, and ground ambulances are always deployed simultaneously with the helicopter.”

— with files from 680 CJOB’s Skylar Peters

Click to play video: 'Skydiver killed in Gimli accident was beloved Manitoba film veteran' Skydiver killed in Gimli accident was beloved Manitoba film veteran

Skydiver killed in Gimli accident was beloved Manitoba film veteran

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