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HomeNewsLocal Paramedics understaffed and overworked council hears

Local Paramedics understaffed and overworked council hears

KAWARTHA LAKES- “Things are getting tough out there for our paramedics, I can tell you, my staff are getting tired.” Keith Kirkpatrick, Chief of Paramedic Service for Kawartha Lakes, told council this afternoon. “We haven’t had a staff increase since 2011 but calls have gone up 7% a year.”

Kirkpatrick was presenting an overview of the highlights and challenges facing the service over the next year at a special council meeting on Tuesday afternoon. It’s part of the 2018 Budget Process.

He says there’s been a 25% increase in Code 3 urgent but non emergent calls (originally it was reported to council to be 80%, corrected by Communications) and a 46% increase in emergency, cannot be delayed, calls. Off-load delays at Ross Memorial Hospital were also cited as a concern for staff. Kirkpatrick said there were 12,000 calls for patients requiring transfers to the hospital last year and every single one of them had at least a 30 minute off-load delay, costing about $400,000 a year, including emergency medical transfers. An off-load delay is when the ambulance takes a patient to the hospital but has to wait for staff at the hospital to examine the patient before they can “off load” the patient to the hospital.

Paramedics are so burned out that they are calling in sick and there’s no one available to cover for them according to Kirkpatrick, “I can see a significant increase in the sick time of our paramedics, I’ve been here 10 years and it’s always been static but in the last year it’s really gone up.”  And that’s leading to down-staffing of ambulances, meaning when no one comes in to cover there’s not as many ambulances on the road, “When they are turing down overtime at $60 hour that means they are tired”

‘Thank you for your presentation and it’s certainly a sobering one” Councillor Elmslie said.

Councillor Junkin wanted to know if the opioid epidemic had anything to do with the increase in calls.  The Chief says the number of calls from opioids has increased dramatically from 16 last year to 100 this year. “They seem to come in pairs because they are using together. The other things we are seeing is an increased risk to our paramedics when they go into these places and there’s powder (drug)everywhere.”

Councillor Breadner asked how many more Paramedics were needed to take the pressure off and keep the service operating efficiently. The ideal increase would be six new paramedics according to Kirkpatrick.

Despite the challenges staff are at the top of their game. Kawartha Lakes Paramedics came in at #1 in recognizing critical intervention in cardiac incidents and #2 for save percentage in the base hospital catchment area that includes Peterborough, Durham, Northumberland and Haliburton. In terms of saving the lives of patients in cardiac arrest the provincial average is 5% and Kawartha Lakes is at 24%. “We are trying to make sure we meet the gold standard for treatment”  Kirkpatrick said. “We have really good 1st responders and they do an extraordinary job”

He credits a few innovative programs with their success. The Autonomous IV Program- expanded scope of practice for primary care paramedics is one of them. Previously only Advanced Care Paramedics could administer IV to cardiac patients but council heard a number of Primary Care Paramedics studied for the certification as well. The fact that there are a number of Public Access Defibrillation devices through the city also helps. “Response time, performance is exactly as it should be.”

But that could be about to change according to Kirkpatrick. “I have to have you guys realize our overtime budget may become suspect over the next year because we can’t continue the way we are.”

Mayor Andy Letham says adding more paramedics may not be the answer. “Sometimes the solution is not having more paramedics, now you have three ambulances lined up at the hospital instead of two, lets try a pilot project in Lindsay” he commented, “What about putting a plan together and come up with an alternative to present to AMO and the government.”

He says the call volume needs to be handled in a different way. “Let us do our part from a lobbying position and put something together and present it to the Province”  said Letham, “We are not dealing with the real issues at AMO and we need to be”  Letham is referring to the Association of Municipalities of Ontario.

The Province is looking at a new dispatch model but officials say that could take 4-6 years to trickle down to Kawartha Lakes and they say we need to find solutions now.




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Pamela Vanmeer
Pamela Vanmeerhttps://www.kawartha411.ca/
Pamela VanMeer is a two time winner of the prestigious Radio Television Digital News Association (RTDNA) Award. Her investigative reports on abuse in Long Term Care Homes garnered international attention for the issue and won the Ron Laidlaw Award. She is a former reporter and anchor at CHEX News, now Global Peterborough and helped launch the New CHEX Daily, a daily half hour talk show. While at CHCH News in Hamilton she covered some of the biggest news stories of the day.

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