Paramedics and dispatchers call for more resources as mental health issues rise

VANCOUVER — Groups representing Canada’s paramedics are calling for improved mental health services as staffing shortages and unprecedented call volumes fueled by the pandemic and overdose crisis take their toll on workers.

In BC, British Columbia Emergency Health Services reported more than 840,000 ambulance dispatches in 2021, but the union representing paramedics said the figure was likely much higher.

Troy Clifford, president of Ambulance Paramedics of BC, estimates that paramedics responded to more than a million calls last year, pointing out that calls requiring multiple ambulances are not counted as separate events by their employer.

“These numbers just aren’t sustainable,” Clifford said.

Figures released earlier this month by BC Emergency Health Services indicate BC paramedics responded to nearly 100 overdoses per day in 2021, which Clifford says affected the service.

“The number of our members on discharge and in treatment due to psychological injuries is incredible, and the opioid epidemic is certainly a significant part of that,” he said.

Clifford said the service is experiencing a staffing crisis with an inability to recruit and retain paramedics, and the union is demanding better pay and benefits.

“If we don’t see changes soon, we will continue to see our ability to respond to patients who are in pain and wait times increase,” he said.

Dave Deines, president of the Paramedic Association of Canada, said paramedics across the country are reporting increased call volumes, fewer staff due to COVID-19 and an increased need for resources. in mental health.

“All paramedics are feeling a crisis with the growing demand for the service, (and because) it’s emotionally, psychologically and physically tiring,” Deines said.

The Manitoba Association of Health Professionals, which represents more than 800 rural paramedics, said a Jan. 6 internal report obtained by the union shows ambulances were idle for a cumulative 17,000 hours in October due to limited staff.

He said in a statement that the report from the Medical Transportation Coordination Center, which dispatches emergency medical services, shows service outages have reached a five-year high.

“During the pandemic, rural paramedics have worked unprecedented overtime and continue to do so, but they cannot keep up,” union president Bob Moroz said in a statement.

Manitoba Shared Health said in a statement that it has made recruitment an important area of ​​its work.

“During the pandemic, these efforts have included redeployment, engagement of relief personnel and calls for recently retired or former paramedics to join the workforce as part of our COVID response.”

Zaid Noorsumar, spokesperson for the Canadian Union of Public Employees in Ontario, said it surveyed 1,440 of its paramedic members in October and 92% of respondents said they were understaffed.

Noorsumar said 84% said an increased workload impacted their mental and physical health, while 73% said their employer was not doing enough to address mental health issues. The full data set will be released later this month, he said.

The Ontario Ministry of Health said in a statement that “paramedic services across the province provide services to meet the mental health needs of their employees,” including family support plans, in-house counselling, peer support and access to public mental health and addictions services. services.

Robert Parkinson, director of health and wellness for BC paramedics, said last year’s heated dome highlighted the need for better mental health resources when record-breaking temperatures overwhelmed the 911 service.

The BC Coroners Service reported a total of 595 heat-related deaths last summer and Health Minister Adrian Dix confirmed there were 2,000 ambulance dispatches on 28 June, the highest total on record in one day.

Parkinson said the event revealed understaffing issues and highlighted the mental health impacts faced by paramedics and dispatchers.

Ambulance Paramedics of BC estimates that about 30% of the workforce has access to psychological support, either through benefits, participating in the Critical Incident Stress Program or taking paid time off.

BC Emergency Health Services said in a statement that mental health claims accounted for about 46% of all its long-term disability claims in 2020, although 2021 data is not yet available.

The British Columbia Ministry of Health said it will provide more clinical support and resources to frontline staff and their families. It also said it was adding 85 full-time paramedics, 65 dispatchers and 22 ambulances to the system.

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on January 25, 2022.

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This story was produced with financial assistance from Facebook and the Canadian Press News Fellowship.

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