Paramedics frustrated support not in action plan

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Paramedics are disappointed the Manitoba government’s new $200-million action plan for health care doesn’t mention any specific support for their profession, which is struggling with critical staff shortages and burnout.

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Paramedics are disappointed the Manitoba government’s new $200-million action plan for health care doesn’t mention any specific support for their profession, which is struggling with critical staff shortages and burnout.

Rebecca Clifton, a spokeswoman for the Paramedic Association of Manitoba, said the sector desperately needs help because it is “hemorrhaging” staff to other provinces and professions, including nursing.

“This is the biggest crisis that we’ve seen,” said Clifton, an Interlake-based intermediate care paramedic. “I’ve been doing this for 13 years. Every year I keep saying it can’t get worse, and it does.

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‘Paramedics are burning out after five years because it’s non-stop all the time,’ Rebecca Clifton said. ‘The job has changed substantially.’

“It hits a point where we’re going to hit rock bottom, and we’re very close to rock bottom.”

Premier Heather Stefanson and Health Minister Audrey Gordon on Thursday announced a three-pillar plan — retain, train and recruit — with a goal of adding 2,000 health-care workers to ease the burden on the system.

The “health human resources action plan” mentions multiple measures to add doctors and nurses, plus a pledge to provide more mental-health and burnout support to health-care workers.

Clifton said paramedics and dispatchers felt “quite a bit of frustration” when they failed to see commitments to boost their ranks or address working conditions.

“They need help. They need help now, and they need help yesterday,” she said.

PAM, a professional association which has about 2,000 voluntary members, said the province must prioritize retaining, training and recruiting paramedics and dispatchers.

“We know paramedics are struggling in Manitoba,” said Clifton. “We need to keep what we have because there is nobody to backfill. If we don’t treat (paramedics) well, they’re gone.

“The No. 1 thing that needs to happen is we need to retain the paramedics who are there. There’s going to be a point in time when you need us and we’re not there.”

Some paramedics are lured to other provinces by financial incentives offered by employers. Others are retiring early or leaving for careers in other areas of health care or in unrelated industries.

At Thursday’s press conference, Gordon told reporters the province is “continuing discussions” with paramedics, physician assistants, nurse practitioners and clinical assistants “on how their special expertise can support new and innovative models of care in the province.”

“The 2,000 health-care professionals will be comprised of doctors, nurses, and allied health professionals, including but not limited to nurse and physician graduates, returning nurses that left the public system, returning nurses who retired, internationally educated nurses, undergraduate nurse employee nurses, new hires through our proposed recruitment programs, and rural physicians,” a government spokesman wrote in an email Sunday.

Manitoba’s 2022 budget allocated $7.6 million to hire 35 additional primary care paramedics.

The government expanded advanced paramedic training with 32 new refresher seats and 16 seats with Red River College Polytechnic, the spokesman said.

For some time, PAM and paramedic unions have been pleading with the province to increase pay, improve working conditions and hire more staff.

“A lot of paramedics haven’t seen any (wage) increases in five years,” said Clifton.

Staffing levels haven’t kept up with rising demand for help from the public, according to PAM.

“We haven’t seen the addition of paramedics to balance things out,” said Clifton said, noting there are high levels of staff on leave with injuries or mental health concerns.

Manitoba is struggling to fill positions in rural areas, where wages are lower than those in Winnipeg.

There was a time when it was common to have paramedics with 20 to 30 years of experience, said Clifton.

“That’s not a thing anymore. Paramedics are burning out after five years because it’s non-stop all the time,” she said. “The job has changed substantially.”

The Manitoba Association of Health Care Professionals previously said staff shortages are leading to ambulances being out of service and longer response times.

After Thursday’s announcement, MAHCP president Jason Linklater said the union’s members, including more than 800 rural paramedics, need “substantive action” now.

“We are encouraged that the Manitoba government is finally acknowledging the ongoing staffing crisis,” he said in a statement. “Unfortunately, we haven’t heard any details yet that will retain the thousands of experienced, specialized allied health professionals on the front line now and whose wages have been frozen for almost five years.”

chris.kitching@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @chriskitching

Chris Kitching
Reporter

As a general assignment reporter, Chris covers a little bit of everything for the Free Press.

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