Nova Scotia

1 year into code critical campaign, N.S. paramedics union say nothing has changed

It's been one year since the union representing Nova Scotia's paramedics started pressuring the province to improve ambulance availability and launched a social media campaign to bring attention to the issue.

'Something tragic is going to happen' if ambulance availability issues aren't fixed, warns union official

Two ambulances line up in Halifax on March 13, 2018. (Craig Paisley/CBC)

It's been one year since the union representing Nova Scotia's paramedics started pressuring the province to improve ambulance availability and launched a social media campaign to bring attention to the issue. 

Despite the increased pressure and public awareness, however, the union has yet to be involved in any meaningful discussions on how to better the situation, said Terry Chapman, CEO and business manager of the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 727.

"We have not been seated at one meeting with anybody considered a stakeholder other than [Nova Scotia Health Minister Randy Delorey] who repeatedly tells us, 'I feel your pain. Don't worry, we're going to do something about it,'" Chapman told CBC News.

For the past year, the union has been tweeting #codecritical to bring attention to the issue of ambulance availability, which Chapman said is a provincewide problem.

Between November 2018 and the end of January, Chapman said there were more than 900 instances of ambulances being partially staffed or out of service. 

The union has also complained of slow offload times that have paramedics waiting with patients at overburdened hospitals instead of going back on the road. It wants the province to figure out ways to fix administrative delays in offloading patients at the hospital.

"It's our people, our paramedics who are stressed and going long days with very little to eat, then being mandated into overtime," said Chapman.

EHS review coming

In an email to CBC News, the Department of Health and Wellness said it is working to improve ambulance offload times at emergency departments, which will help get ambulances back out on the road sooner.

"We've asked the Nova Scotia Health Authority and EHS [Emergency Health Services] to recommend ways to improve offload times and better manage patient flow within emergency departments," wrote Tracy Barron, a department spokesperson.

Those recommendations are due at the end of this month. A review of EHS and a report is expected to be completed this spring, said Barron. 

Barron also said the province meets with the unions regularly and "is willing to meet and discuss their concerns around ambulance availability." 

Paramedics are currently in active bargaining, she added.

System 'working as it is designed'

Emergency Medical Care Inc., the privately owned company that manages EHS in Nova Scotia, said anyone calling 911 in need of medical assistance will get an ambulance and/or paramedics, though it may take longer for a unit to respond if it's busy.

"The EHS system is working as it is designed  — to expand and contract based on call demand. At no point are there no paramedics/ambulances to respond to an emergency call," spokesperson Remo Zaccagna told CBC News in an email.

He said paramedic units are "moved around based on call demand"

"Paramedics, although they may start and end a shift in one specific community, are assigned to the province and move as such. If there is a gap in one area of the province, a paramedic unit is on its way to cover it off."

Chapman said the current system isn't sustainable and he is calling on all sides to come together to talk about solutions. It's a public safety issue, he said.

"Something tragic is going to happen ... and it can't be fixed until all the mechanics are at the table," Chapman said.

About the Author

Anjuli Patil

Reporter

Anjuli Patil is a reporter and occasional video journalist with CBC Nova Scotia's digital team.

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