Paramedics protest increasing number of 'red alerts'

Eastern Health paramedics gathered outside Confederation building in St. John's on Tuesday to protest the increasing number of red alerts.
Almost 40 paramedics gathered outside Confederation Building in St. John's on Tuesday to protest the increasing number of red alerts on the northeast Avalon. (CBC)

Eastern Health paramedics gathered outside Confederation Building in St. John's on Tuesday to protest the increasing number of red alerts.

Red alerts occur when there is no Eastern Health ambulance on standby, ready to answer emergency calls on the northeast Avalon.

Last fall, CBC Investigates reported that red alert status was in effect an average of 26 minutes per day in the St. John’s metro area over the first seven months of 2013.

According to the protesters, there simply aren't enough paramedics to answer all the calls coming in.

Chris Harris, an advanced care paramedic, said they've been overworked and understaffed for too long.
Chris Harris says paramedics have a difficult time helping one patient, knowing there is another call going unanswered somewhere else. (CBC)

"It is a continual strain on our paramedics. We are dealing with this situation on a day to day basis, but as resources become depleted it's very stressful to be dealing with one patient knowing that there are other patients waiting for help that we cannot respond to," he said.

The province has responded to the concern, recognizing that there is an issue, but continuing to explore options to find the best way to resolve it.

"The numbers still continue to climb, and our concern is for the general public," Harris said. 

"Ultimately they will be the ones to potentially suffer any consequences due to the fact that response times are being increased and they have to wait longer to get the help that they're calling for."

Makes for unhealthy work mentality

The Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Public and Private Employees, the union representing the paramedics, had already called on government to hire more staff.

Jimmy Lacey, eastern vice-president at NAPE, said staff are concerned that they won't be able to provide the best possible service to people calling for help, which has negative impacts on employee morale.
Jimmy Lacey, with NAPE, says the rising number of red alerts makes for an unhealthy work environment for the paramedics. (CBC)

"With our red alerts increasing and our staffing levels not increasing with it, we feel the public is very much at risk," Lacey said.

"They [the paramedics] feel that if they're not working in a healthy mind-set, how can they serve the public in a healthy mind-set as well."

Members of the opposition Liberals and NDP showed up to the rally to show support, but no one made an appearance from government.

Almost 40 of the 51 paramedics employed with Eastern Health turned out to add their voice to Tuesday's protest.

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