Ambulance New Brunswick, the People’s Alliance party, and the province’s Tory government have come up with a solution they say will address ambulance response times and language issues.
Premier Blaine Higgs announced Monday that they are creating a new dedicated non-emergency transfer service for hospital patients.
“The new system allows Ambulance New Brunswick to pre-identify the patient’s language of choice and deploy staff with the linguistic capabilities required,” Higgs said, standing in front of an ambulance and a group of paramedics.
“This is is what New Brunskwickers voted for, cooperation that will be better for this province, in this case I truly believe the changes that we are working towards will save lives.”
A court ruling last year said bilingual paramedic services must be provided, but a labour adjudicator said there may be ways to lessen the language requirements, so the previous Liberal government asked for a judicial review to be heard in late January.
In some cases, ambulances have been parked when bilingual staff were unavailable.
“This change will allow Ambulance New Brunswick to hire 40 unilingual paramedics in full-time permanent positions, while still meeting our obligations under the Official Languages Act. The new patient transfer system will be in place by the end of this coming March,” Higgs said.
Transfers make up about 30 per cent of ambulance calls in the province, and there were concerns that was hurting response times to emergency calls, especially in rural areas.
The People’s Alliance campaigned on making changes to the ambulance system, and made it contingent for their support of Higg’s minority government.
While the two parties say they don’t have an official coalition, Alliance Leader Kris Austin was invited to attend meetings between the government, Ambulance New Brunswick, and Medavie – the company that manages the ambulance service, and be part of the announcement.
Austin was also the first person Higgs thanked in making the announcement Monday.
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Austin said the government is taking a common sense approach to the issue.
“While we must respect the right of both francophone and anglophone citizens to receive service in their language of choice, we must not allow unnecessary language requirements to supersede common sense and the health and safety of all New Brunswickers,” he said.
“This new approach will serve both linguistic communities while doing so in a fair and sensible manner.”
Gregory McConaghy, president of local 4848 of the Paramedics and Dispatchers Union, said it appears to be a good deal, but he’ll have to take a closer look to ensure that language rights are met for both transfers and emergency calls.
Higgs said he wants to have further discussions with the union in the hope that the judicial review can be cancelled.
He said the new changes don’t increase the cost of the contract with Medavie for the ambulance service.
Austin said the addition of the transfer service is just step one, and now the government needs to look at other issues such as the salary level for paramedics.
McConaghy said paramedics in New Brunswick make about $25 per hour, while their counterparts in Ontario and Quebec are paid between $38 and $40 an hour.
The union is asking for a 23 per cent increase. McConaghy said that would get them up to about $30 an hour, and that would be “a good start.”
With files from Megan Yamoah