Labour unions representing paramedics and dispatchers from the Maritimes are meeting in Prince Edward Island to discuss the issues front-line workers are facing in their communities.
The gathering marks the second annual Maritime Paramedic/Dispatcher Labour Union Conference and will give representatives from each province the opportunity to highlight issues in their respective regions.
Michael Nickerson, president of IUOE Local 727, which represents Nova Scotia’s nearly 1,100 paramedics, says morale among paramedics is at an “all-time low” — but that’s just one of many issues facing the industry.
“Staffing is a huge, huge issue,” said Nickerson.
“That’s due to multiple factors, some of them due to burnout and fatigue. The systems are much busier than they used to be, and people are not getting their meal breaks. They’re not getting off on time, they’re feeling devalued and not appreciated by their employer and by their government.”
It’s a complaint echoed by Terry Chapman, business manager of IUOE Local 727.
“Staffing shortages and equipment resources continue to be a constant concern affecting employee morale and public safety,” said Chapman.
As part of the conference, there will be a roundtable discussion to formulate possible solutions.
“Our goal with these meetings is to build a better workplace for paramedics and dispatchers and better health care for citizens across the Maritimes,” said Nickerson. “There were a lot of great discussions last year, and we’re looking forward to even more this year.”
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Burnout among paramedics has been a big issue, says Nickerson — so much so that when someone calls in sick, it can be difficult to fill shifts.
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“The younger paramedics coming in the profession see the older paramedics that are burning out, and they’re saying: ‘You know what? I don’t want to become that old, burned out, disgruntled paramedic’ so they’re opting not to work as much or work less,” said Nickerson.
One retention strategy, he says, is to increase wages.
“The Maritimes lag behind everybody else in the country when it comes to wages — and that’s not just for paramedics and dispatchers, that’s every profession. But we need to increase compensation, close that gap and make it more attractive for people to stay within the profession.”
While his focus is creating a better workplace for paramedics and dispatchers, Nickerson acknowledges the issues they face are widespread in the health-care sector, saying more family doctors, nurse practitioners, long-term care beds and clinics are needed throughout the province.
“People can’t get into their doctors or their nurse practitioners so they’re going to the emergency rooms, backing up the emergency rooms because they have no choice but to do that, and then our crews are waiting to offload patients,” he said, calling it a “cascading effect.”
While Nickerson is hopeful this meeting of the minds will generate some solutions, he urges the public to listen to the concerns of paramedics and dispatchers as well.
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“We want the public to be aware of the staffing issues. We don’t want to alarm them by any means but we do want them to be aware of what’s going on so they can talk to their elected officials and request that immediate steps be taken to improve the issues,” he said.
For Nickerson, the goals are to keep an open line of communication between all three Maritime provinces, continue public engagement and make this conference an annual event.