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Health Sciences Calls for Independent Review of Rural EMS

Saskatoon (October 16, 2014) – The ambulance service provided to rural and remote communities by Saskatchewan health regions is dangerously under-staffed and poorly managed, and there needs to be an independent review of how health regions are performing this vital life and death service, according to the President of the Health Sciences Association of Saskatchewan, Karen Wasylenko.

“Ambulance or EMS services in many rural and remote communities are near the breaking point, following years of mismanagement and under-staffing by the health regions. While Saskatchewan’s population has been increasing, the staffing of ambulance services has been decreasing. Many rural and remote communities are regularly without ambulance service, even though the public is seldom informed by their health region. This is unacceptable,” Wasylenko told a Saskatoon news conference.

“The Cypress Health Region claims to provide adequate ambulance service to seven smaller communities within the region, including Maple Creek, but it is doing so with less than half the staff from only a decade ago. Ambulances across the Cypress Health Region have sat unused, due to the lack of trained staff, and there is high turnover due to the working conditions,” Wasylenko said.

“In the Kelsey Trail Health Region, the town of Porcupine Plain, with a population of more than 800 residents, has been without ambulance service for ten full days and nine partial days in the past four months, due to the lack of staff. Hudson Bay, with a population of more than fifteen hundred, has been without ambulance service for four partial days during the same period. The residents of these communities have never been informed of these service gaps,” Wasylenko added.

“In the Sunrise Health Region, communities such as Melville, Langenburg and Ituna have recently gone without their minimum ambulance staffing levels, because EMS workers have been regularly pulled to cover staff shortages at a new Collaborative Emergency Centre in Canora. As a result, Melville, a city of nearly five-thousand residents, often has only one fully-staffed ambulance instead of the usual two. This is a classic case of ‘robbing Peter to pay Paul’,” Wasylenko said.

“The Rural EMS system is based on a broken business model that requires EMS staff to work unsafe hours with no set wage and no benefits, and in spite of the incredible dedication of these staff, the health regions are failing to provide the life and death emergency services that rural communities expect,” Wasylenko charged.

“Health regions cannot be trusted to fix these problems on their own, as they continue to pretend they are providing adequate service, in spite of the facts. In a September Market Supplement Report on Emergency Medical Technicians, the health regions said there were “no service delivery issues related to the recruitment and retention” of EMTs, and they reported “minimal turnover”. This was all to argue against giving these workers a wage adjustment, designed to improve recruitment and retention of ‘hard to recruit’ health care professionals,” Wasylenko reported

“However, since this Market Supplement Report was first presented, rural health regions in Saskatchewan have advertised no fewer than 54 EMT positions (43% of their reported full-time and part-time staff) on multiple jobs websites. Nearly all of these positions are labelled Permanent Casual, meaning the EMT would not be guaranteed any full-time hours or benefits and would regularly have to be On Call for 100 hours per week for a Stand By wage rate that is less than half the Saskatchewan Minimum Wage. Is it any wonder that the health region-managed Rural EMS services are unable to staff consistently to ensure the public’s safety?” Wasylenko asked.

“The Heartland Health Region is a prime example of why these regions cannot be trusted to put patients first. In the September Market Supplement Report, Heartland claimed that of its 30 full-time and part- time EMS positions, there were only two vacancies among part-time staff, and no recruitment or retention issues of significance. Since that report was filed, Heartland Health Region has advertised 29 Casual and Part-Time positions, some of which they identify as being unfilled for more than a year,” Wasylenko noted.

“Without an independent inquiry, Saskatchewan health regions will be free to continue to play these kinds of bureaucratic shell-games with people’s lives! It is time for an independent body, such as the Provincial Auditor, to review the performance of the health regions with respect to ambulance services,” Wasylenko said.

“Going forward, at a minimum, all health regions should be required to report to the public on the staffing levels for EMS services (full-time, part-time and casual positions), the full recruitment and retention record for EMS staff, the response times achieved by these ambulance services, and how the health regions plan to inform the public whenever they are unable to provide a safe level of ambulance service to a community or region. The public has a right to know whether it can count on these life and death services when they need them,” Wasylenko concluded.

For Further Information Contact:

Mark Jagoe
Health Sciences Association of Saskatchewan
306-221-8113

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