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Fix the whole system, fix the ambulance problem, says Paramedic Association of Newfoundland and Labrador

Rodney Gaudet is president of the Paramedic Association of Newfoundland and Labrador.
Rodney Gaudet is president of the Paramedic Association of Newfoundland and Labrador. - SaltWire File Photo
ST. JOHN'S, N.L. —

The provincial association that represents paramedics says a radical change in health-care delivery is needed to help solve problems facing ambulance services.

Commenting on Telegram stories this week regarding concerns of metro St. John’s paramedics, and Eastern Health and the Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Public and Private Employees’ response, Paramedic Association of Newfoundland and Labrador president Rodney Gaudet said nursing home demand and lack of bed availability in hospitals affect ambulance services, as paramedics wait in hallways to hand over patients to hospital staff.

“It’s trickle down. We end up getting the brunt of it,” Gaudet said.

Offload delays have ballooned to hours from minutes in a span of less than three years.

Situations in which all ambulances are tied up, with dispatch scrambling to find available ambulances, were called red alerts.

“Red alerts have been on the table and in the news and media for years now. There’s been no solution.” — Rodney Gaudet

But Eastern Health has banned the term, as it feared an erosion of public faith in the metro ambulance service.

Whether the term is banned or not, the problem remains, said Gaudet, who speaks on behalf of all the paramedics across the province, both ambulance and flight service.

“Nobody offered any solution to fix that problem,” Gaudet said.

“Red alerts have been on the table and in the news and media for years now. There’s been no solution.”

 


The professional association met all parties of government in an advocacy day earlier this month to push some of their points and concerns over delays in implementing recommendations of a 2013 independent report on ambulance services.

Another setback came in April when the provincial government announced it would delay the implementation of the Emergency Medical Services public procurement plan form April 2020 to April 2022. 

The implementation of the plan would result in more government oversight and regulation of the province’s 48 privately owned and community-operated paramedic dispatches.

Without fixing inefficiency in the system, the stress on paramedic services will continue, Gaudet said.

The association wants the government to allow a system of community ambulances in which paramedics could be certified to deliver certain treatments like intravenous antibiotics during a call to a patient’s home. This would save time and expense on the health-care system, because it would free up nurses and doctors, and eliminate transporting some patients to hospital, Gaudet said.

As well, he said a provincewide central dispatch would make the best sense to manage ambulance services, co-ordinating the deployment of  paramedic trucks and allowing them to cross over into other service areas when not busy or take a call when passing through after dropping an out-of-town patient in St. John’s.

 


With the mixture of public and private ambulance services in the province, each area now has its own dispatch system.

But Gaudet said despite the mix of public and private providers, the politics of it has to be set aside in the best interest of the patient.

More supports such as education and awareness that address the mental health of paramedics to deal with traumatic calls are also needed, Gaudet said. 

While post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is now covered by the workplace injury system, that's a specific diagnosis and doesn't address other conditions such as depression and anxiety, Gaudet said.

He said there isn’t a list of trauma-specializing counsellors that paramedics outside the metro area can be referred to, and even though Eastern Health has that expertise, the wait is long. 

Talking to therapists who don’t specialize is challenging, Gaudet said, as the paramedics spend their sessions explaining their unique situation.

“I have heard of medics going to therapists and the therapist gets overwhelmed and have to leave the room. The medic thinks, 'Where do I go from here if the therapist can’t even handle it,'” Gaudet said. 

A mix of quality of life, rates of pay across the province and the stresses of the job are causing medics to leave the province, he said, adding that the association has had good dealings with Health Minister John Haggie, but it wants timelines as to when there will be movement on paramedics' concerns, and will continue to push for action.

Twitter: @BarbSweetTweets


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