Leadership with Northwest EMS and the Kenora District Services Board are working to recruit and retain more paramedics in 2023 to help prevent staff burnout and provide better coverage to the region.
“We’re not immune to the human resource challenges faced by the healthcare sector,” explains Chief Administrative Officer with the KDSB, which operates Northwest EMS, Henry Wall.
“As our call volumes have continued to increase over the years and the 911 system needing more paramedics, what we’re seeing is the number of paramedics we’re able to hire each year has decreased quite substantially. It’s putting a lot of pressure on our service and our staff,” adds Wall.
Last year, Local CUPE 5911 president and paramedic, Derek Hamilton, warned of a ‘major crisis of care’ in the Kenora district due to paramedic burnout and poor working conditions.
CUPE members explained ambulance wait times can be upwards of two hours in the area, and too often, care is delayed due to staffing shortages, high call volumes and a limited number of ambulances.
Now, Wall explains the KDSB is doing everything it can to better those times and prevent any ‘Code Black’ situations - where no EMS services are available for a specific area.
“A big push we’re doing is a recruitment strategy. We’re making sure we can hire more paramedics from anywhere, really. And we’re really hoping we can hire quite a few to take that pressure off existing staff who are going above and beyond.”
As well, Labour Minister Monte McNaughton announced a new technical committee under the Occupational Health and Safety Act earlier this month to address risks paramedics face each day, which will develop resources to address those risks.
“We’ve done well considering the challenges that we are facing, but when we’re asking staff to work longer days, cover more shifts…long-term, it does take a toll on people,” adds Wall.
“It’s important that we pay attention to that, and the added pressure doesn’t result in more burnout. We can’t afford that.”
The KDSB received an additional $1 million in land ambulance funding from the province in 2023 to help address their ongoing staff shortage, bringing their annual grant up to $13.4 million.
The Ontario government notes they pay half of each municipality’s land ambulance funding costs, to ‘help build a modern, sustainable and connected emergency health system.’
Paramedic services week runs from May 24 to 30 in Ontario.