Montreal

Urgences-Santé calling for reinforcements as low staffing continues over St-Jean weekend

A paramedic and delegate with the union representing the workers said only 30 of the service's 55 ambulances could be on the road during one of its busiest times of the year.

Union says absences mean nearly half of ambulances could be unstaffed

Three parked ambulances.
As many of 25 ambulances could sit idle tonight as the paramedic service for Montreal and Laval deals with absences and other staffing issues. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)

The paramedic service covering Montreal and Laval is calling for help from surrounding regions as it copes with a critical staffing shortage through the Fête nationale long weekend.

An interventions supervisor at Urgences-Santé said that while all holidays see a spike in calls, this is especially true on St-Jean-Baptiste Day — when heat-exhaustion, intoxication and trauma-related calls tend to flood the network.

And Luc Baumont, a paramedic and delegate with the union representing the workers, said Friday afternoon that only 30 of the service's 55 ambulances will likely be on the road overnight and through Saturday — continuing a trend seen in night shifts over the last month.

"We're exhausted, like the whole health-care system we've been through two years of pandemic. We're just overwhelmed," said Baumont, a paramedic for the last 37 years.

Urgences-Santé has been calling on paramedics from the Montérégie, Laurentians and Lanaudière regions to help out, but Baumont said that can only go so far when the influx of calls is expected beyond Montreal and Laval.

"It's a dangerous proposition at best, because while they're responding here on our territory, it means that there is one less vehicle in their territory," Baumont said. "It's kind of like putting a Band-Aid on a serious hemorrhage."

Urgences-Santé spokesperson Jean-Pierre Rouleau says management has been stepping in to fill some of the gaps, and some paramedics from other services have already committed to help tonight.

While the situation is worrying, he said he wants the public to know they can still rely on them.

"We want to assure people that if there's an urgent call, you will have an ambulance," Rouleau said.

Drink responsibly, stay hydrated

Paramedics are urging Quebecers to drink responsibly and stay hydrated throughout the hot weekend, saying there are likely to be delays for lower priority calls.

"Everybody is excited to get celebrating for this summer season, but it's really important to be responsible," said Vanessa Grillo, the supervisor of interventions for Urgences-Santé.

She said calls to 911 should be reserved for emergencies only. Those wanting to know if they should visit an emergency room can speak with a nurse at 811.

She also encouraged people to get to the hospital on their own if they can.

The union, Syndicat du préhospitalier, is asking for the same kind of financial incentives that were offered to nurses at the height of the pandemic in Quebec to keep paramedics on the road.

Baumont said they haven't been offered anything beyond the regular time-and-a-half they receive for working on a holiday.

"To me it's probably one of the best jobs in the world. The biggest problem we have is the system in which we do it," he said.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Miriam Lafontaine is a journalist with CBC Montreal. She has previously worked with CBC in Fredericton, N.B. She can be reached at miriam.lafontaine@cbc.ca.

With files from Jennifer Yoon

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