The union representing air ambulance paramedics in Thunder Bay is raising more concerns about how the service operates.  

A spokesperson said the issues run deeper than not having enough crew members to use all three of the air ambulance’s aircraft.

"We have great concerns ... that ... the patients and the people in Ontario aren't getting the level of care that they should be from this company," said Ron Smith, the director of transportation for the Canadian Autoworkers union, which represents Ornge paramedics.

He said many workers have been waiting a long time to get critical care certification — certification to provide the highest level of care, such as administering medication under a doctor's orders.

"Critical care paramedics ... should be used to transfer the most sick patients from location to location," he said.

But that doesn't always happen.

Smith said, before Ornge took over, paramedics received weeks of intensive training. The training took them away from their jobs, but they came back with vital clinical skills. 

Hospitals send nurses on planes with patients

Hospitals in Northwestern Ontario say they're feeling the effects of a shortage of paramedics trained in critical care.

Barb Linkewich is a vice-president at Sioux Lookout Meno Ya Win Health Centre. She says the hospital often has to send its own nurses to accompany seriously ill patients on transfer flights because paramedics with advanced certification aren't available.

"This is a concern for us," Linkewich said.

The hospital in Red Lake says it's facing the same tough choices when it comes to using nurses to transfer patients.

Ornge vice-president Steve Farquhar said staff shortages make extended off-site critical care training difficult. He said the company will start training again next spring.  

"We're heading in the right direction," he said. "I guess it's how fast can we get there."

Farquhar added that he'd like to have more paramedics to serve the North, but there's not enough government funding to do so. He also said it's hard to attract workers to the region.