Emergency medical responders in southern Saskatchewan are paid $5-an-hour to be on call, leaving many to pick up second jobs.
Now, there aren’t enough workers to staff ambulances in some communities such as Redvers, Sask., according to Bonnie Rutten, Redvers’ chief administrative officer.
“We have people capable of running the ambulance, but they have to have a full-time job in order to feed their family, so they’re working between six in the morning to four in the afternoon,” she said.
That leaves her community without an ambulance for 21 days every month, she said.
“The worst thing about it is the fear. We have a nursing home. We have a hospital. We have a school, a hockey arena. We have people working at high-risk jobs and that ambulance isn’t available to them,” Rutten said.
With the move to a single health care authority, frontline workers are hoping the government will re-examine emergency medical services, especially in rural areas.
“I’ve been trying to battle this issue for the last ten years probably,” McConnell said. “We work from 14 days to 21 days straight. And that’s on-call 24 hours a day.”
The difference between life and death can be a matter of minutes, McConnell said, and it’s frustrating for many when an ambulance needs to come from a neighbouring community.
“We think it’s absolutely vital in whatever changes that are coming for EMS services that they have that input from frontline workers that do that job day in and day out,” Sandra Seitz, Sun Country Health Care Providers Union President, said.
Recruitment and retention are the biggest issues, she said.
“Some workers are reporting that they’re putting in thousands of hours of on call in a year,” Seitz said. “When you’re on call, you can’t be too far away from that base so you’re basically tied from your home.”
“Five dollars an hour to put your life on hold to save a life is not adequate,” she added.
Improvements to EMS were recommended by the province’s advisory panel on the health system structure. The provincial government said it will be working over the coming months to reorganize the ground EMS system.
According to the government, Sun Country Health Region also provides emergency medical responder training within the region to provide opportunities for employees closer to their communities.