Staffing shortages still impacting ambulance wait times in Nova Scotia
A day after a Nova Scotia woman shared her story about driving her son to the hospital after waiting for an ambulance, her provincial politician is calling for better services and accountability.
It was during a Canada Day celebration in Pugwash, N.S., when Felicia Holden’s eight-year-old son passed out twice after playing in a bouncy castle.
The mother called 9-1-1 but a 40 minute wait led her to drive her son to the hospital herself.
Elizabeth Smith-McCrossin, the MLA for the area, says hundreds attended the annual Canada Day festival and there should have been an ambulance on site, or near the festival.
"In my opinion, there should be policy in place by the province that whenever there are large gatherings like that, there should be an ambulance within 10 to 15 minutes," said Smith-McCrossin. "To ensure there could be a safe response time.”
The province has contracted out Emergency Health Services to a private company which manages ambulance services and paramedics.
Charbel Daniel, ground operations executive director for Emergency Health Services says staffing challenges are an issue.
"That day [Canada Day] was no exception to the staffing challenges we’ve been facing on any given day," said Daniel.
Normally EHS would have 128 ambulances during peak activity at their 63 stations across the province.
Daniel and the Nova Scotia Paramedics Union both said they didn’t have a full roster on Canada Day, and its one factor leading to longer wait times.
"We’re averaging over the last five months, anywhere from 20 to 25 per cent of our units are offline," said Kevin MacMullin, Nova Scotia Paramedics Union business manager. "That’s because they [ambulances] can’t be staffed because we’ve lost paramedics that have left for other professions or other companies in other regions."
It’s a difficult situation, but EHS has been working on the issue as they have hired 80 paramedics so far this year.
But they still have 38 permanent paramedic vacancies to fill, a number that constantly changes says EHS, as staff move around or switch to new roles within the system.
Daniel adds staffing shortages at hospitals are also having an impact on ambulance wait times as emergency department hours are being cut and weekend closures are becoming more common.
"Sometimes you have to transfer further distances because the ED [Emergency Department] is closed," said Daniel. "The second and most significant impact is, that with fewer hospitals to transport to, we wind up with more patients."
The union says wages for paramedics in Nova Scotia are among the lowest in the country and the government needs to address the wage disparity immediately to help with retention and recruitment.