Fire, paramedic staff skip breaks to keep up with demand
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Emergency staff are sometimes forced to skip breaks to keep up with calls for help as new statistics show long ambulance wait times continue to plague Winnipeg, said Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service Chief Christian Schmidt.
Back in June, Schmidt noted ambulances were taking several minutes longer to reach a patient in a life-threatening emergency than the target response time, due to shortages of staff and emergency vehicles.
At the time, he said that type of response was often “pushing 15 minutes,” well above an eight-minute, 59-second target.
Several months later, the situation remains a major concern.
“The times have not improved,” Schmidt told media on Tuesday.
In 2022, a transport ambulance and crew reached an emergency scene within 19.67 minutes 90 per cent of the time, up from 16.27 minutes in 2021, WFPS data show.
Schmidt stressed patient safety remains the top priority and Winnipeg’s integrated emergency model still allows highly skilled firefighters, such as firefighter paramedics, to arrive on scene quickly.
For the most serious calls, that still allowed an emergency responder to reach the patient within 8.95 minutes, 90 per cent of the time in 2022, WFPS data show.
However, service demands remain high and there are still many very short time periods when no ambulances are available at all, said Schmidt.
“It’s rather static but it is a daily issue,” he said.
The WFPS leader said the conditions are creating intense demands on staff.
“When we have low ambulance availability, high call volumes, limited resources, at some point your practitioners start to pay the price and that’s the point that we’re at right now. We’ve got situations where people aren’t getting their breaks. There (are) breaks that are mandated through the collective agreements that we have with staff and their unions and there are times we’re not able to fulfil those requirements, so that’s concerning,” said Schmidt.
WFPS has asked the province for another 10 ambulances and an additional 11 full-time staff for each one to meet demand and service targets. Schmidt said Shared Health has received a recent update on the matter.
“We’re hopeful that something will be forthcoming to address the volume increases here in Winnipeg,” he said.
While ideally the issue would never occur, WFPS says there has been an improvement in the amount of time that no ambulances are available to respond to emergencies. The number of non-consecutive hours where no ambulances were available dropped to 155 throughout 2022, down from 170 throughout 2021.
The service believes the improvement may be linked to its enhanced low-acuity triage program, which helps determine which patients can find safe alternative travel to a hospital other than an ambulance.
In an emailed statement, a spokesperson for Shared Health did not specifically answer whether it will pay for the ambulances and new staff positions the city has requested.
“Shared Health is working with the City of Winnipeg to finalize a new EMS service agreement. In the meantime, we continue to work with the Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service to find ways to improve patient care and free up ambulances for responding to higher-acuity calls,” the statement said.
Born and raised in Winnipeg, Joyanne loves to tell the stories of this city, especially when politics is involved. Joyanne became the city hall reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press in early 2020.
Updated on Wednesday, March 1, 2023 3:55 PM CST: Fixes time for ambulance response. The data was incorrect in WFPS press release