Earlier this week we brought you a story on how our paramedic system in Sault Ste. Marie is under stress.
Since that story, paramedics have been inundated with messages of support on social media voicing just how much they are appreciated.
Unifor Local 1359 President, Cathy Humalamaki, and Paramedic Unit Chair, Mary Casola, reached out to SaultOnline to explain where they see some of the issues. Collectively, they represent 69 Paramedics as well as Communications Officers in the City. They point the fingers at management as the primary reason for some of the ongoing issues they are facing.
“Our Paramedics are frustrated, burnt out and under extreme pressure,” said Casola. “We miss meal breaks, treat the same people multiple times, and work long shifts due to improper staffing levels.”
Did you know?
Only 4% of paramedics make it to retirement?
Currently the union has multiple paramedics off on leave for injuries and stress due to the ongoing challenges presented by the job, and the conditions in which they work. They provided us with 7 pages of incidents where the force either had to up-staff due to lack of resources or send out mass texts looking for shifts to be filled due to a paramedic not being able to come in.
They point to a disturbing trend which puts both paramedics and those they serve in danger.
“During our last round of bargaining, DSSAB put a stop to us trading shifts so we could work 18 hours and then come back for another 12, deeming it unsafe,” says Unifor. “Now, they are asking a medic who works 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. to work until noon, then their partner to come in at noon and work until 6 a.m. the next day, effectively 30 out of 36 hours.”
Hospital offload delays are a significant issue across the province. Casola, who has over 30 years of experience on the roads of Sault Ste. Marie, explained to us what happens when these situations occur at Sault Area Hospital.
“So when we are [dispatched] to these calls, the paramedics are unable to at times, just offload the patient to a nurse and emerge because of the offloading issues. The paramedics are also sitting in the emergency department from 30 minutes up to three hours, if not greater, on an offload delay,” says Casola. “The reason for that, at times, could be nurse staffing issues or bed issues, but for whatever the reason is, they’re not able to [assume] patient care.”
Sault Area Hospital has also removed the work station paramedics had been using, which included docking ports as well as proper seating to do administrative work while on offload. Not to mention having been used as a place to charge their stretchers. That room is now a space for SAH employees to hang their PPE.
Even worse, Unifor says patients with addictions and mental health issues have zero privacy while waiting at offload. If they do embarrassing things such as strip, swear out loud etc., their confidentiality is shot.
Paramedics, who should be answering calls, can be required to sit in emergency or in their ambulance in the ambulance bay. These delays can cause them to sit waiting through their meal breaks and listen to emergency calls they can’t attend because of these delays, all the while knowing that these delays could also cost lives.
At times, there are zero ambulances in Sault Ste. Marie available to respond to emergencies. In these instances, the Primary Response Unit from Goulais has been redeployed to assist in Sault Ste. Marie as well as the ambulance which is supposed to be in Garden River 24/7, according to Unifor.
“We have been asking for more paramedics. According to a consultant, there was supposed to be an additional 24 hour ambulance in Sault Ste. Marie, this year,” states local representatives. “Instead, they (management) point to call volumes not being high enough and say it’s not in the budget.”
What is in the budget however, is room for more management. A second Deputy Paramedic Chief position is being filled this year. They also point to a recent quote by management stating call volumes are expected to be 1,500 more than they were last year with a projected total of 17,000 calls.
So why will DSSAB not fund more ambulances?
Why are they willing to put their workforce at risk?
When will the 24 hour ambulance, suggested by the consultant, be put on the books?
Stay with SaultOnline as we continue to shine light on issues inside our community.