Paramedics asked to take on HSC emergency room duties

Paramedics received an urgent call for help from Manitoba’s largest hospital, as staffing levels in its emergency department dropped to desperately low levels over the weekend.

Read this article for free:

or

Already have an account? Log in here »

To continue reading, please subscribe with this special offer:

All-Access Digital Subscription

$1.50 for 150 days*

  • Enjoy unlimited reading on winnipegfreepress.com
  • Read the E-Edition, our digital replica newspaper
  • Access News Break, our award-winning app
  • Play interactive puzzles
Continue

*Pay $1.50 for the first 22 weeks of your subscription. After 22 weeks, price increases to the regular rate of $19.00 per month. GST will be added to each payment. Subscription can be cancelled after the first 22 weeks.

Paramedics received an urgent call for help from Manitoba’s largest hospital, as staffing levels in its emergency department dropped to desperately low levels over the weekend.

On Sunday, advanced care paramedics from the Winnipeg region were asked to pick up shifts at the Health Sciences Centre adult emergency department for the first time, due to short staffing.

“They’re an excellent resource to be able to help staff and support the emergency work,” HSC chief operating officer Dr. Shawn Young said during an unrelated news conference on the Manitoba Legislative Building grounds Monday morning.

“Working in triage, working in (resuscitation), they have the skill sets and the tools to be able to provide that service exceptionally well.”

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Asked if paramedics had staffed the emergency department over the weekend, Dr. Shawn Young said HSC has been partnering with paramedics for “quite some time,” and paramedics have previously assisted in rural emergency departments and at Grace Hospital in Winnipeg.

Asked if paramedics had staffed the emergency department over the weekend, Young said HSC has been partnering with paramedics for “quite some time,” and paramedics have previously assisted in rural emergency departments and at Grace Hospital in Winnipeg.

A Shared Health spokesman later clarified while paramedics were indeed asked to work in the emergency department Sunday, none picked up a shift.

Patients continue to receive care ‘without compromise’: Shared Health

In a statement, a Shared Health spokesman said Monday patients attending the emergency department at Health Sciences Centre in Winnipeg continue to receive all needed care.

“Patient safety is our top priority and we can ensure those who come to HSC Winnipeg receive the care they need without compromise,” the statement said. “We thank all health-care staff for their continued dedication to patient care during these challenging times.”

In a statement, a Shared Health spokesman said Monday patients attending the emergency department at Health Sciences Centre in Winnipeg continue to receive all needed care.

“Patient safety is our top priority and we can ensure those who come to HSC Winnipeg receive the care they need without compromise,” the statement said. “We thank all health-care staff for their continued dedication to patient care during these challenging times.”

According to Shared Health, paramedics who work in emergency departments generally support the monitoring of patients and help with IV starts.

“They do not take direct patient care assignments,” the statement said.

Paramedics have also been asked to support alternative isolation accommodations, vaccination centres and personal care homes through the COVID-19 pandemic.

Shared Health said a number of system-wide initiatives are underway to recruit and retain nursing staff, including:

— introduction of undergraduate nurse employees into the workforce;

— new mentorship programs;

— establishment of a provincial float pool;

— financial incentives to increase the number of shifts nurses work each week.

Plans to partner with paramedics to deliver services at the HSC emergency department had been in development prior to the COVID-19 pandemic to expand capacity and reduce demand on nurses, Young said.

While he was unable to say how frequently paramedics may be called on to support the emergency department, it could present a longer-term solution to chronic staffing shortages, particularly on weekends when “trauma is at its worst and some of our needs are at its greatest.”

“It’s a routine practice in Manitoba,” Young said. “We just started making it more operational (at HSC) as of this weekend.”

Manitoba Government and General Employees’ Union Local 911 president Ryan Woiden said paramedics are pleased to see their scope of practice recognized by the health-care system — but relying on them to fill holes in the emergency department is troubling.

“We’re hoping that there’s a comprehensive plan coming somewhere, because this just can’t be sustained,” Woiden said.

“It’s a routine practice in Manitoba… We just started making it more operational (at HSC) as of this weekend.” – Dr. Shawn Young

On Sunday afternoon, Shared Health officials issued the appeal to paramedics to pick up a 12-hour overnight shift at the HSC emergency department, an email obtained by the Free Press showed.

“They are very desperate for staffing tonight,” the Shared Health official wrote in the request to more than 30 emergency response professionals.

Woiden said the request to “plug and play” at HSC likely came as a surprise to paramedics, who are already stretched thin under their regular workload.

“It’s certainly concerning that there’s no other plan except for to send out the occasional message,” Woiden said. “We certainly can assist anywhere we can, and we will, but replacing the nurses and the experience they have at Health Sciences Centre is not something we’re planning on doing.”

Earlier this month, the Free Press reported the typical per-shift complement of 24 emergency room nurses at HSC had dropped to as low as 12, according to three nurses who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of discipline for speaking publicly.

“We certainly can assist anywhere we can, and we will, but replacing the nurses and the experience they have at Health Sciences Centre is not something we’re planning on doing.” – Ryan Woiden

The nurses described an emergency department where staff are so overrun, they do not have the time or resources to properly care for all of the patients who come in. According to Shared Health, the job vacancy rate in the emergency department was 25.8 per cent.

Over the weekend, nurse staffing challenges were significant in the emergency department, and prompted calls to regular, part-time and casual staff, in addition to advance care paramedics in the casual pool, a Shared Health spokesman said.

On Sunday, eight critical care nurses were reassigned at points throughout a 24-hour period to cover shortages in the emergency department, the spokesman said. A manager was also on shift to support staffing needs in the unit.

SHANNON VANRAES / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES On Sunday, advanced care paramedics from the Winnipeg region were asked to pick up shifts at the Health Sciences Centre adult emergency department for the first time, due to short staffing.

“We are at a point right now where we are desperate for nursing staff,” Manitoba Nurses Union president Darlene Jackson said Monday. “It seems like every week, we hear of another nurse leaving.”

Jackson said assistance from paramedics within emergency departments is welcomed but also questioned the sustainability of the “Band-Aid” solution. She said the call out for paramedics to staff the HSC is a symptom of desperation within the health-care system.

“We would prefer to have experienced nurses in that department. However, we’re in a position right now in this province where we’re in such a critical nursing shortage that nurses are exhausted,” Jackson said.

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES Darlene Jackson, president of the Manitoba Nurses Union, said assistance from paramedics within emergency departments is welcomed but also questioned the sustainability of the “Band-Aid” solution.

“There doesn’t seem to be anywhere to turn to correct the situation at this point.”

Health Minister Audrey Gordon said the COVID-19 pandemic has forced the health system to do things differently and its leaders to consider different staffing models.

She said other specialty health-care professionals have asked to assist in the emergency departments or to see their scope of practice expanded in response to staffing shortages.

“There doesn’t seem to be anywhere to turn to correct the situation at this point.” – Darlene Jackson

“It’s about all of us being in this together, and so I don’t think it’ll just be the paramedics that you’ll see in the ER. I think you’ll see other specialties, too,” Gordon said. “I don’t think I’m going to say no to any offers that come forward from the various associations or specialties or how long that might be for.”

Meanwhile, NDP Leader Wab Kinew described the addition of paramedics to the HSC emergency department as an escalation of a crisis.

“It really does seem that our health-care system is being held together by their heroic efforts and the ongoing impact of the PC cuts to health-care continues to play out in ways that we’ve never seen before in Manitoba,” Kinew said.

“Using paramedics to staff the emergency room at the most important hospital in our province is certainly an unprecedented situation and a new low.”

danielle.dasilva@freepress.mb.ca

JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES Health Sciences Centre chief operating officer Dr. Shawn Young said HSC has been partnering with paramedics for “quite some time."
Danielle Da Silva

Danielle Da Silva
Reporter

Danielle Da Silva is a general assignment reporter.

History

Updated on Monday, June 27, 2022 3:47 PM CDT: Adds clarification from Shared Health on paramedic staffing at Health Sciences Centre.

Updated on Monday, June 27, 2022 5:26 PM CDT: Tweaks headline, text to indicate were asked to cover, rather than covered, shifts.

Report Error Submit a Tip