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Saskatchewan NDP calls for more funding for rural ambulance services after disruptions

Sluser explained the issue is that the jobs are only temporary and are structured as an on-call basis. Pay is $5 an hour until paramedics get called out. File / Global News

The Saskatchewan NDP is calling on the government to provide more funding for ambulance vacancies in the south east region of the province.

In a press conference on Thursday, the NDP was joined by Glenavon, Sask., mayor and first responder Bill Sluser who said these vacancies were resulting in service disruptions.

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Due to a maternity leave, Kipling and area have been for short a paramedic since the end of January. The ambulance services are run out of Kipling hospital, and operate in Glenavon a third of the month due to the staffing shortage.

Sluser said the Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) told him there would be no problem finding a replacement.

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On Jan. 29, Sluser said the SHA informed him they could not find a replacement.

Sluser explained the issue is that the jobs are only temporary and are structured as an on-call basis. Pay is $5 an hour until paramedics get called out.

In an emailed statement to Global News, the Health Ministry said in ambulance services that have low call volumes, which are typical in smaller rural communities, staffing is an “often on-call, less than full-time 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. This includes providing emergency medical responder and medical first responder training for individuals interested in working for the SHA,” the statement read.

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Sluser says he reached out to Minister of Rural and Remote Health Everett Hindley about his concerns and is waiting to hear back.

“I know he’s a very busy man with COVID but people are getting sick in rural Saskatchewan and we’re still using the ambulance. We’ve had a couple of situations that we’ve got by by the skin of our teeth,” Sluser told reporters.

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Glenavon relies on a number of different ambulance services during emergencies. Global News / File

Currently, it takes about 30 minutes to get an ambulance to the area of Glenavon which Sluser said was “fine.”

Ambulance services are also subbed in from Grenfell which would also take about 30 minutes, but Sluser said that’s a busier service.

“To add Kipling’s load to them, we don’t get (ambulances) very often,” Sluser said.

If ambulances had to come from Fillmore, it could take up to an hour and 15 minutes. Ambulances from Stoughten would take over an hour to arrive in the area, as well.

“God help us, Carlyle would probably be an hour and a half. We’ve had three instances that everything turned out OK.”

“I just don’t want to see a death or something worse or as bad happen, and then (the government) will fix it. It shouldn’t take a human losing its life to get funding.”

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Sluser wants the government to provide more funding so they can hire a full-time paramedic. He said he understands why applicants don’t take temporary, on-call positions.

“These people have bills to pay, and families and their lifestyles,” Sluser said.

Read more: SHA easing family presence and visitation restrictions at Regina hospitals

“All I want is to see that funding. I would like to have somebody from the minister’s office phone me and tell me what’s going on.”

Sluser said he knows the funding has to go through SHA and added they have been “good” but they can only tell him so much.

NDP health critic Vicki Mowat called the situation “unacceptable”.

“Certainly this situation in Kipling going unaddressed is completely unacceptable because we know that it’s impacting the whole area. This is not the only community that is being impacted.”

“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 that don’t have full time ambulance coverage.”

Mowat also called on the government to publicly report service disruptions to start a conversation.

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In their statement to Global News, the Health Ministry said they do not currently track ambulance service disruptions.

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“Our government is committed to providing all Saskatchewan patients with timely access to emergency medical services (EMS). We appreciate that this can be challenging in more remote or rural communities. The SHA endeavours to provide patients with exceptional care, despite the challenges of geographic expanse in Saskatchewan,” the statement added.

The ministry said they will continue to work with the SHA determining their needs throughout the province.

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