Loading articles...

'Code Red': Paramedics' union sounds alarms over staff shortages and forced overtime

Last Updated Jul 2, 2021 at 6:58 am MDT

(PHOTO: Tom Ross, 660 NEWS)

CALGARY — The union which represents Alberta’s paramedics is sounding the alarm, calling attention to a shortage of ambulances in the province.

And it says the heatwave is only compounding the issue.

“I’ll be crystal clear, we’ve been running in a system that has been struggling for years, those calls that have been coming in these days relating specifically to temperature based injuries of illnesses are absolutely on the rise and putting a tax on our system we haven’t seen,” said Michael Parker, president of the Health Sciences Association of Alberta.

Parker says those in the system are having overtime forced upon them, and even then, several shifts a day are being left unfilled.

“What we’re seeing is a system that was already running on the edge of failure, running ‘Code Red’ every single day are now going to a forced overtime system, a forced model where anybody who is left standing is left picking it up and trying to keep this system together,” Parker said.

Parker is pointing towards Alberta Health Services (AHS), EMS leadership, and the government as the problem.

“They have not maintained hiring, they have not maintained staffing levels in the AHS system of our ambulance service, and that fallout is absolutely on the shoulders of any member left in the system.”

Parker says there needs to be recognition that the system has not been properly resourced.

AHS responded to a request for comment with the following statement:

“AHS EMS is seeing high demand in Edmonton and Calgary, due to several factors including an increase in heat-related calls, emergency calls related to people participating in outdoor activities, and staff shortages related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Since Tuesday morning, EMS has responded to 71 heat-related calls in Edmonton, and 34 heat-related calls in Calgary. For context, EMS in Edmonton and Calgary responded to seven heat-related calls last Friday, combined.

“Anyone who needs EMS care will receive it. We are ensuring that the most critical patients are prioritized for receiving immediate care.

“EMS has brought on additional staff and ambulances, is deploying supervisors, and delaying some non-urgent transfers. EMS is also working closely with hospital teams to ensure timely flow through our emergency departments.

“We are not mandating overtime, however, we are offering overtime to staff who are willing.

“EMS strongly urges Albertans to take precautions during this heatwave. Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water, use a broad-spectrum sunscreen of 30 SPF or higher, wear and/or carry your own shade like a hat or umbrella, and take frequent breaks out of the heat and sun when possible.”