Paramedic shortage in rural Sask. needs to be addressed, say NDP, Glenavon mayor

The Opposition and community members are calling on the provincial government to fill staffing gaps for paramedics in rural Saskatchewan.

Mayor says health authority told him it couldn't find a replacement for Kipling paramedic on maternity leave

The mayor of Glenavon says he wants to see a commitment from the health minister to secure funding for three Kipling paramedics, which would provide 24-hour availability to medical services for Glenavon and surrounding communities. (Daniella Ponticelli/CBC)

The Opposition NDP and the mayor of a Saskatchewan community say the provincial government needs to fill staffing gaps for paramedics in the province's rural areas.

NDP MLA Vicki Mowat said rural residents and communities in Saskatchewan deserve the same peace of mind that city residents have when they call 911 for an ambulance.

"Since January, Kipling and area have been short a paramedic, meaning no ambulance for two-thirds [of] each month" in the southeastern Saskatchewan community, she said.

Bill Sluser is the mayor for Glenavon, about 45 kilometres northwest of Kipling and in an area directly affected by the paramedic shortage. He is also a first responder.

Sluser said the current paramedic in Kipling went on maternity leave and he was in contact with the Saskatchewan Health Authority, which told him it could not find a replacement for her.

"They had a couple people apply and as soon as they found [out] the wage — and it was being an on-call structure, which is $5 an hour [until] you get called out — they took their names off of there," he said.

Mowat said the paramedic position is only a part-time position.

"There are significant challenges with the compensation rates that are provided as well," she said. "So to make this position attractive is insurmountable and leads to the lack of ambulance services in the community."

The province said in areas with low call volumes, such as rural communities, the staffing is often an on-call arrangement.

"We understand that these recruitment and retention challenges exist in some of our smaller rural communities and that the SHA is continuing to recruit and explore options to improve EMS staffing," the Ministry of Health said in a statement Friday.

"This includes providing emergency medical responder and medical first responder training for individuals interested in working for the SHA."

Funding commitment needed: mayor

Sluser said currently, Glenavon is a 30-minute drive away from the nearest ambulance service, which would be Grenfell. If a Grenfell ambulance is unavailable, the wait for medical attention could be anywhere from an hour to an hour and a half.

He said as a first responder, he is limited in the things he can do in an emergency while waiting for EMS.

"When we go there on a normal call … we are even asking, 'When is the ambulance going to be there?'" he said. "Because things could change so drastically in that first hour."

He said there were three instances in which emergency services were needed in his community since the shortage started. Everyone is OK, but he said services were needed quicker.

Sluser said he does not want to see someone in his community die due to lack of services in Glenavon.

"It shouldn't take a human losing [their] life to get funding," he said. "We need a commitment for funding so that we can advertise a full-time position."

He said he wants to see a commitment from the health minister to secure funding for three Kipling paramedics, which would provide 24-hour availability to medical services for Glenavon and surrounding communities.

Mowat said Saskatchewan has seen "countless rural service disruptions in health care," and other communities are being affected by shortages.

"This is why we've called on [the] government to fill those gaps for staffing, but also to provide information about what other Saskatchewan communities are similarly impacted … and to publicly report on the service disruptions as well, so that we can at least start a conversation about it."


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