NDP reveals Shared Health data showing rural paramedic numbers shrinking
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Manitoba’s roster of rural paramedics shrank by more than 80 workers in under three years, according to statistics released by the New Democrats.
Opposition Leader Wab Kinew tabled figures from Shared Health during question period Wednesday showing the health authority had an average of 617 paramedics on its payroll in the 2022-23 fiscal year.
Its employee pool — which includes paramedics who hold permanent, term and casual positions in communities across the province — lost 87 people or 12 per cent of the workforce since 2020-21, according to documents authored by Shared Health in response to an access to information request.
“When we hear from folks in rural Manitoba who are waiting longer than ever, this is the reason why,” Kinew said in the chamber, accusing the Progressive Conservative government of cutting paramedic positions.
Premier Heather Stefanson and Health Minister Audrey Gordon missed question period Wednesday afternoon to announce a new, five-year emergency medical service agreement between the province and the City of Winnipeg.
After a years-long funding dispute, the two levels of government agreed to a contract that will see Shared Health reimburse the city for ambulance services provided by the Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service.
Finance Minister Cliff Cullen highlighted the $54 million agreement in response to the Opposition leader. Several paramedics attended question period after spending the morning meeting with MLAs at the Legislative Building.
Cullen said many jurisdictions are facing challenges when it comes to recruiting health-care workers and the Manitoba government is spending $200 million to add 2,000 more people to the system, while training and retaining others.
“We are competing with other provinces for health-care professionals,” Cullen said. “We’ve added more positions for paramedics, we’re ready to hire paramedics, Manitoba is open.”
The Manitoba Association of Health Care Professionals represents paramedics working in rural communities who have been without a contract for about five years. The union is currently bargaining with Shared Health on behalf of nearly 7,000 members who work across the health system.
MAHCP’s members voted overwhelmingly in support of a strike mandate earlier this year and a mediator is currently involved in the negotiations.
The union has repeatedly raised alarms over short-staffing, long hours and burnout experienced by rural paramedics, and has accused the Progressive Conservative government of ignoring a staffing crisis.
The union has also flagged salaries — which can be up to 25 per cent higher for a job with the Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service — as one reason paramedics are leaving rural posts.
Meanwhile, the province has taken steps to hire new primary-care paramedics and increase access to advanced-care training.
NDP house leader Nahanni Fontaine said the provincial government and Shared Health have refused to bargain fairly with MAHCP, and paramedics are leaving as a result.
Justice Minister Kelvin Goertzen said the Tories respect paramedics, have reduced ambulance fees and established self-regulation for the profession.
Government Services Minister James Teitsma said negotiations are continuing between the union and Shared Health.
“I’m optimistic that progress will continue to be made there and I’m optimistic that a fair deal will be arrived (at),” Teitsma said. “I will note that every deal that has been concluded by this government within health care… includes retroactive, compounding pay increases.
“There’s no reason to expect anything else in this deal.”
Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont said it’s no surprise rural paramedics are leaving, given wages haven’t increased in more than five years.
“They’re either coming to Winnipeg, or sometimes they’re leaving the province entirely, because the government hasn’t been doing what it takes,” Lamont said.
Danielle Da Silva
Danielle Da Silva is a general assignment reporter.