I am writing to address a statement made about the Manitoba Government and General Employees’ Union (MGEU) in a recent article ("Rural Ambulances Struggling To Meet Response-Time Marks," Jan. 18) about EMS response times in western Manitoba.
In this article, RM of Roblin Reeve Tom Mowbray states, "The union is pushing the limits (on what training) you need to drive an ambulance. We have a lot of people that would drive, but don’t necessarily want to be the responder, but you can’t do that now. If they just want to drive, what difference does it make?"
The MGEU does not set the training standards or licensing levels of paramedics in this province. That is done by the Manitoba Health EMS branch.
However, the MGEU would like to see improved ambulance response times, which are generally higher in rural Manitoba for many reasons, some that cannot be changed and some that can be changed. Here are the issues we can change:
1. Extended chute times — The time from when the call is received by a paramedic to when the ambulance responds are called chute times. Chute times for standby (on-call) paramedics are usually around eight to nine minutes — sometimes longer. When a crew is at the station, the chute time is around 90 seconds. Currently, rural chute times are longer than urban centres because so much coverage is done by standby paramedics, instead of full-time paramedics working at the station.
2. Low staffing levels — Right now, ambulances are out of service because we do not have enough paramedics to staff them. There are times when multiple ambulances are out of service, which means neighbouring ambulances have to travel longer distances to respond. Frequently, an ambulance might be travelling more than 70 or 100 km to a patient.
To help fix these two problems, the MGEU is advocating for the following:
1. More full-time and part-time paramedics to be hired by the RHAs in Manitoba.
The recent provincial EMS review identified the need to hire 430 additional rural paramedics. This will be done over a number of years. The MGEU wants to see the province start by hiring 80-100 paramedics immediately. More full and part-time positions will decrease chute times. Also, additional staff will put more ambulances in service.
2. Rural paramedic wage parity with Winnipeg paramedics.
Currently, rural paramedics earn 38 per cent less than their Winnipeg counterparts. This creates a huge recruitment and retention problem in rural areas. The province has committed to fixing this problem by 2019, but it needs to happen sooner so that well-trained rural paramedics aren’t leaving to work in the city.
The MGEU and all the dedicated paramedics it represents want to be part of the solution for better health care for Manitobans.
EMS component director, MGEU