A Red Deer fire-medic is not surprised EMS sick rates soared in Central Zone last year, but he believes the worst is over.
Alberta’s EMS problems were highlighted in a Parkland Institute report released on Tuesday. It highlighted the physical and psychological toll that has been taken on paramedics who have been struggling to keep up in an under-staffed system.
The strain is showing up in an increase in injury rates and sick time.
Health Sciences Association of Alberta president Mike Parker said 28 per cent of EMS workers suffered a serious injury last year. Sick time logged in the 2022 fiscal year hit 264,806 hours across the province, up from 222,519 a year earlier.
In Central Zone, sick time soared 88 per cent to 22,645 hours in 2022 from 12,024 hours the year before.
“Unfortunately, it doesn’t surprise me. Working in the industry, every day you’re going through it and working with the people and hearing what everyone is saying about call volumes,” said Stephen Belich, president of the International Association of Firefighters Local 1190 Red Deer.
The pandemic, lengthening hospital wait times where paramedics must sometimes spend hours with their patients waiting for them to be admitted added to the strain.
Belich said some of the initiatives announced by the province in recent months offer some promise that conditions will improve. An additional ambulance has been added in Red Deer and two others are on the way.
There also have been additional mental health resources provided and last month Alberta Health announced an EMS-811 shared response initiative to divert non-emergency 911 calls to the 811 Health Link line. The government has also promised 20 new ambulances and 80 more paramedics.
In Red Deer, city council approved six more fire-medics in the last budget, which will help ease the load locally.
“We were in a tough spot there for a while with our people,” he said. Fire-medics were working a lot of overtime and sometimes getting called in on their days off. Not having that time to recharge can take a toll, he said.
The situation does seem to be improving though and he believes there is better communication at all levels.
Improving service in one area often helps in another. Reducing wait times at the hospital means paramedics and ambulances are not tied up as long and residents get better and faster service.
“We’re definitely going in a positive direction now. Some problems have been identified and some solutions.
being tried,” he said.
“And I think that has a good effect on people’s mentality, that there is some help coming or there is something being tried, as opposed to status quo, everything’s great, when it’s not.”