Paramedics are being redirected to work in Winnipeg emergency rooms amid ongoing issues with staff shortages, Shared Health says.
In a statement to Global News Shared Health said paramedics were included in an ask to work at the Health Sciences Centre HSC over the weekend, and while no paramedics were available to fill in for the shifts, the organizations says it is the first time paramedics were included in the call-outs for staff.
Dr. Shawn Young, the chief operating officer at HSC, said having paramedics work in ERs is routine practice in Manitoba, but this weekend marked the start of making the method “more operational” because of the ongoing nursing shortage.
“They’re an excellent resource to be able to help staff and support the emergency work,” Young said Monday, adding he hopes the practice becomes more permanent.
“Working in triage working in recess they have the skillsets and tools to be able to provide that service exceptionally well.”
Young said paramedics have also recently been used to help staff the Grace Hospital as well as at emergency rooms in rural hospitals.
The Winnipeg Regional Health Authority said calls out for paramedics to help staff the Grace’s ER have usually happened on weekends. They say there were a total of three shifts filled by paramedics in October and another three filled in May.
Young says the practice isn’t impacting paramedic services because the hospital work is being done on extra shifts.
“This is beyond their regular shifts, so they’re not impacting their own service,” he said.
Shared Health said when working in emergency rooms, paramedics “generally support the monitoring of patients and help with IV starts,” and do not take direct patient care assignments.
MGEU Local 911 paramedic union president Ryan Woiden said he wasn’t surprised to learn there were no paramedics available to work at the HSC emergency room over the weekend – because he says they’re facing a shortage themselves.
“We’re spread pretty thin both rurally and within the City of Winnipeg,” he said.
Woiden said paramedics are open to the idea of helping ER’s when able, but stressed the union doesn’t want to see paramedics taking jobs away from nurses.
Ultimately, he said, it’s not a long term solution to address staffing.
“How are we going to find the paramedics to even go to these places when we can’t find paramedics to staff the ambulances in Winnipeg?” he asked.
“I’m happy that that they recognize that we can fill a void. But I think a larger conversation as to where we’re going in health care in Manitoba has to be had.”
Manitoba hospitals have been struggling to find and retain nursing staff for months.
Data released by Shared Health Monday shows the nurse vacancy rate at HSC currently sits at 26.6 per cent. Numbers released in May showed the Grace Hospital had a 28-per cent vacancy rate.
Manitoba Nurses Union, Darelene Jackson, has said the shortages were predicted for 2025, but the pandemic sped that timeline up.
NDP Health Critic Uzoma Asagwara said asking paramedics to work in ERs raises “immediate concern” and called on the government to find a more permanent solution to staffing shortages.
“It’s just essentially trying to close one gap with a staffing resource and not addressing the gaps that exist in that very same service and across the health care system overall,” Asagwara said.
“Where’s the leadership here? Where’s the leadership that should be taking steps to ensure that we have enough nurses (and) allied healthcare professionals in these settings.”
In a statement to Global News a Shared Health spokesperson aid the move to tap paramedics to help staff emergency rooms is not new and is something that’s been done in other jurisdictions.
They pointed to redeployments during COVID-19 that saw paramedics working throughout the health-care system, including at vaccination centres and personal care homes.
A government spokesperson called using paramedics to staff emergency departments “a routine practice not only at HSC but across Manitoba.”
“This work does not affect paramedic services in the province and paramedics are an excellent resource to support in emergency departments,” the spokesperson said in a statement.
“Staffing shortages are affecting all jurisdictions across Canada and our government is looking at staffing models across other provinces.
“We will continue to work with all facets of the health-care system to identify and implement a wide variety of solutions to address this issue.”
— with files from Abigail Turner and Keesha Harewood