PEI

More focus needed on hiring and retention with P.E.I. paramedics spread thin, union says

The head of the paramedics' union on P.E.I. says he has asked Health Minister Ernie Hudson to step up recruitment and retention efforts.

'To rob Peter to pay Paul is making the system more critical'

The union's last contract ended in 2018 with Island EMS and they could not come to a new agreement. (CBC)

The head of the paramedics' union on P.E.I. says he has asked Health Minister Ernie Hudson to step up recruitment and retention efforts.

The union says a meeting Tuesday focused on resources being stretched too thin. 

"Staff turnover has been extremely high, higher than I've seen in 21 years working on Prince Edward Island," said Jason Woodbury, head of the union. 

"I know of seven individual members who have left the system to work in other locations across Canada … in the last two months." 

Jason Woodbury says wages and working conditions are driving paramedics away from P.E.I. (Kirk Pennell/CBC )

On any given day up, to five ambulances are sitting empty because there are not enough paramedics to staff them — at a time when calls are up 26 per cent, Woodbury said. 

The shortage of staff comes from paramedics being pulled into jobs they wouldn't typically do. 

"For example the COVID-19 testing, we have 12 positions there that paramedics are working in. The mobile integrated health system, we have paramedics working in that," he said.

"The emergency department at the Prince County Hospital we have paramedics in that and recently the mobile mental health unit, we have six paramedics working in that." 

It's not that paramedics don't want to do this work, it's that there are not enough of them in the system as a whole, he said. 

Critical staffing shortage

Woodbury said it was a mistake to assign these duties to paramedics at a time when staffing was already a problem. 

"Our system was critical, and to rob Peter to pay Paul is making the system more critical," he said.

"I think and I believe that we should work on the emergency system first and then expand out to other … duties that paramedics can provide to the health-care system." 

The union's last contract ended in 2018 with Island EMS and they could not come to a new agreement.

Now the two groups are headed to arbitration in December, where a third party will help set the terms of the new contract. 

Woodbury said wages are hurting recruitment and retention efforts on the Island — with paramedics in other Maritime provinces earning between five and six dollars more an hour. 

For its part, the province said the meeting Tuesday went well. 

"It was a good, productive discussion pertaining to topics such as recruitment and the overall role of paramedics in the Island health-care system," a government spokesperson said.

With files from Kerry Campbell

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