Ontario paramedics don't need a regulatory college, CUPE says

The union that represents more than 6,000 paramedics in the province says Ontario does not need a college of paramedics and says calling for one can 'undermine the profession.'

Those calling for a college of paramedics part of ‘splinter group,’ union officials say

The union that represents more than 6,000 paramedics says there is no need for a regulatory college, something the Ontario Paramedics Association is asking the province to consider. (Mehrdad Nazarahari/CBC)

Ontario doesn't need a college of paramedics to regulate the industry, according to the union that represents thousands of the emergency responders.

The Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) says that calls by the Ontario Paramedics Association to create a college of paramedics is unnecessary.

"Ontario patients are protected by the current triple oversight and controls on paramedic professionals. Contrary to the opinion pushed by a splinter group that includes paramedic managers among its small membership the majority of paramedics are opposed to a regulatory college," a statement emailed to CBC News from CUPE Ontario president Fred Hahn and Paramedic Committee Ontario chair Jeff Van Pelt said.

"Ontario needs dedicated paramedic services, exclusively focused on providing top notch emergency medical response. We do not need a back-door attempt to undermine the profession and we are saddened that some wish to revive this issue yet again."

CUPE represents more than 6,000 Ontario paramedics. Hahn and Van Pelt said many of their members have "consistently directed" the union "to oppose the creation of a regulatory college and the additional layer of bureaucratic control that comes with it."

In an interview with CBC News, Van Pelt said the union doesn't even recognize the paramedic association calling for the college.

"The Ontario Paramedic Association speaking for paramedics is kind of like the Cub Scouts speaking for the Armed Forces," he said.

Unregulated paramedics worry association

Rob Theriault, a former critical care paramedic and the former president of the Ontario Paramedics Association, told CBC Kitchener-Waterloo's Morning Edition host Craig Norris that currently, paramedics work under a delegation model, meaning they are given permission by one of two provincial regulatory bodies the emergency health services branch of the Ministry of Health and Long Term Care and eight hospital-based programs, which are funded and accountable to the ministry  to perform specific medical acts in certain emergency situations.

But he noted there are private paramedics who work in other areas, such as at events or for transport services, who are not regulated at all.

"The group outside of paramedic services is a group we're a little bit worried about because we … know they're not held to the same standard. They don't go through the same annual re-certification process, they're not required to do the same continuing education program and it's that combination of two regulators for paramedic services and no regulator for the group outside," he said.

Creating a college would also protect the title of paramedic for those who are regulated under the college, much like the title of doctor or engineer are protected titles.

But Van Pelt said if someone isn't working for a paramedic service, they cannot call themselves a paramedic. 

"The Ambulance Act protects the designation of paramedic," he said, adding CUPE does not think non-paramedics working for transfer services should be given the same title as those working in emergency situations.

"We think that actually dilutes the skillset and we think in fact is dangerous."

The province's Ambulance Act defines the term "paramedic" as "a person employed by or a volunteer in an ambulance service who meets the qualifications for an emergency medical attendant as set out in the regulations, and who is authorized to perform one or more controlled medical acts under the authority of a base hospital medical director, but does not include a physician, nurse or other health care provider who attends on a call for an ambulance; ('auxiliaire médical')."

The regulations defining an "emergency medical attendant" require the person to speak English well, have a valid driving permit and good road record, have upgraded CPR skills, and have taken a provincially-approved First Responder course and have a Workplace Safety and Insurance Board-approved first aid certtificate. 

Decision pending

CUPE says that "another bureaucratic layer of oversight through a new regulatory regime will actually allow others who are not working as paramedics into the college," according to the statement.

Theriault argues that is not the case and, in fact, it would reduce the bureaucracy.

Theriault, who is now a professor for the paramedic program at Georgian College in Barrie, Ont., said the association has applied to the province for permission to form the college and there have been discussions about it for three years. He said it is hoped Health Minister Dr. Eric Hoskins will make a decision soon.

It would be in line with other provinces that have established colleges for paramedics, such as Alberta, Saskatchewan, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.

But Hahn and Van Pelt said those calling for the college are largely top managers of paramedic services and their advocacy efforts should be called into question.

"Why the  provincial government would allow them to interject and upend the current goodwill that exists between the province's paramedics who overwhelmingly oppose a college, is also a mystery," they wrote.

"Equally confounding is why a small voluntary group that does not represent the vast majority of paramedics in the workplace with employers or at the government level, is pushing for a regulatory college. That they could support a proposal that would open up the profession to workers operating pretend ambulances is not in the best interest of the public or the paramedic profession."


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