Manitoba

Paramedics were asked on weekend to help 'desperate' ER staff at Manitoba's largest hospital

Staff shortages at the Health Sciences Centre, Manitoba's busiest hospital, forced management to seek help from paramedics on the weekend. While none were available, management says they will be tapping that resource again. Unions representing paramedics and nurses say that's a problem.

They'll be called on again, Health Sciences Centre CEO says, but unions say not so fast

Paramedics were called to assist in the emergency department at the Health Sciences Centre over the weekend for the first time due to staffing shortages, something that might become routine in future. (Trevor Brine/CBC)

Staff shortages at Manitoba's busiest hospital have forced management to seek help from paramedics, and management says they will be tapping into the resource in the future.

This weekend marked the first time that paramedics were asked to support emergency department staff at Winnipeg's Health Sciences Centre, said its chief operating officer, Dr. Shawn Young.

"They're an excellent resource to be able to help staff and support the emergency work. Working in triage, working in [resuscitation], they have the skill sets and the tools to be able to provide that service exceptionally well," he told reporters at a news conference outside of the Manitoba legislature on Monday.

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"Even prior to the pandemic becoming what it did, we were looking at that partnership to be able to expand our capacity in the ED so we weren't so heavily dependent on just a nursing resources."

A Shared Health spokesperson said in an email on Monday that no paramedics were available to work in the department over the weekend, but the practice has been used at a number of Manitoba sites over the past number of years.

Young says they've worked at Grace Hospital in Winnipeg before, as well.

A Shared Health spokesperson says paramedics who are called to work at Health Sciences Centre will help monitor patients and help start IVs. (Trevor Brine/CBC)

When working in emergency departments, paramedics typically help monitor patients and help with IV starts. They do not take direct patient care assignments, the spokesperson said.

An internal email sent to some paramedics and obtained by CBC News alludes to a dire staffing situation at Health Sciences Centre.

The Sunday email, signed by officials from Shared Health, requested paramedics sign up for a 12-hour night shift at HSC.

"They are very desperate for staffing tonight," the email signed by the assistant to Helen Clark, the chief operating officer, and Dr. Rob Grierson, the chief medical officer, both of emergency response services.

Young alluded to the fact that paramedics might be a more common sight in the emergency department.

"This is our opportunity to actually maybe make it happen more permanently, but I don't know what those schedules will look like," he said.

"The weekends are definitely an opportunity for us because that is when some of the trauma is at its worst and some of our needs are at its greatest."

Anything but routine: union

The Manitoba Association of Allied Health Care Professionals, which represents paramedics in the province, saysnews that hospitals are asking paramedics for help is troubling.

"Shared Health is trying to pass this off as routine, but it's anything but," Bob Moroz, president of the MAHCP, said in a statement. "There continues to be a shortage of paramedics across the province, so they aren't a realistic solution to deal with a dearth of staff in hospitals.

"Staffing ERs with paramedics doesn't sound like a sustainable or well thought-out plan to me, it sounds more like they are scrambling."

The union that represents Manitoba nurses agrees, saying paramedics play an important role in the community, but aren't meant to stand in for nurses.

"Community paramedics … are supposed to liaisons to help alleviate pressure at community hospitals. They are not meant to stand in the place of a nurse. Still, they have been regulars at the Grace's resuscitation room as of late," Darlene Jackson of the Manitoba Nurses Union said in a statement on Monday.

Paramedics aren't a long-term solution to understaffed emergency departments, Jackson says, accusing the government of trying to save face.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Rachel Bergen is a journalist for CBC Manitoba and previously reported for CBC Saskatoon. Email story ideas to rachel.bergen@cbc.ca.

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