Union warns Kingston, Ont. paramedics need more resources

Kingston area paramedics are asking for more money and resources to help them respond to calls.

The paramedics’ union says it is struggling to cope with a significant increase in call volumes.

“The Frontenac Paramedic Service is currently in crisis,” said Dave Doran, Acting President of OPSEU Local 462. “They are at their breaking point and need to be supported.”

The COVID-19 pandemic, the opioid crisis, and an aging population are all driving up calls for service.

Doran says workers face burnout.

“Teams just drop patients off at the hospital and are called back immediately to respond to further calls,” he explains. “There is no downtime between calls.”

Frontenac paramedics are responsible for a wide area, from North Frontenac to islands like Wolfe Island in the south, nearly a two-hour drive from one part of the region to the other.

For a population of approximately 150,000 in all its areas, there are 150 full-time and part-time paramedics. According to Frontenac County, 23,000 calls are recorded each year and the volume is expected to increase year on year over the next decade.

Most calls to paramedics come from Kingston, and Doran says there are times when they can’t respond as quickly in rural areas.

“It has become a public safety issue for Kingston and Frontenac County,” he explains.

In a statement to CTV News, Frontenac County officials said to address the issue, they hired a number of paramedics and trained them. They should start next month.

“Frontenac County takes the health and well-being of all of its employees seriously,” Frontenac County Chief Executive Officer Kelly Pender wrote. “Including frontline paramedics and long-term care staff. The pandemic has had a significant impact on every frontline healthcare worker in the province.

He also says the recent budget approved the hiring of more paramedics and includes a new station to improve coverage.

“By working proactively with the province and planning for the growth of services, we can best ensure the highest possible level of service for the residents we serve.”

But Doran says that won’t be enough as paramedics retire and call for more staff and vehicles on the road.

“Our paramedics are at breaking point,” he says. “They come every day eager to serve the public, but the call volumes are beyond what can be handled by the number of ambulances we have.

“We need to staff those ambulances and we need to add those ambulances so that we can serve the community appropriately.”