Paramedics being asked to work in understaffed Winnipeg emergency rooms: Shared Health

Paramedics are being redirected to work in Winnipeg emergency rooms amid ongoing issues with staff shortages, Shared Health says.

In a statement to Global News Shared Health said paramedics were included in an ask to work at the Health Sciences Centre HSC over the weekend, and no paramedics were available to fill in for the shifts, the organizations says it is the first time paramedics were included in the call-outs for staff.

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Dr. Shawn Young, the chief operating officer at HSC, said having paramedics work in ERs is routine practice in Manitoba, but this weekend marked the start of making the method “more operational” because of the ongoing nursing shortage.

“They’re an excellent resource to be able to help staff and support the emergency work,” Young said Monday, adding he hopes the practice becomes more permanent.

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“Working in triage working in recess they have the skillsets and tools to be able to provide that service exceptionally well.”

Young said paramedics have also recently been used to help staff the Grace Hospital as well as at emergency rooms in rural hospitals.

The Winnipeg Regional Health Authority said calls out for paramedics to help staff the Grace’s ER have usually happened on weekends. They say there were a total of three shifts filled by paramedics in October and another three filled in May.

Young says the practice isn’t impacting paramedic services because the hospital work is being done on extra shifts.

“This is beyond their regular shifts, so they’re not impacting their own service,” he said.

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Manitoba hospitals have been struggling to find and retain nursing staff for months.

Data released by Shared Health Monday shows the nurse vacancy rate at HSC currently sits at 26.6 per cent. Numbers released in May showed the  Grace Hospital had a 28-per cent vacancy rate.

Manitoba Nurses Union, Darelene Jackson, has said the shortages were predicted for 2025, but the pandemic sped that timeline up.

In a statement to Global News Shared Health said  the move to tap paramedics to help staff emergency rooms is not new.

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A spokesperson for Shared Health pointed to redeployments during COVID-19 that saw paramedics working throughout the health-care system, including at vaccination centres and personal care homes.

“The practice of using paramedics to support ED staffing is one that a number of Manitoba sites have used at various times,” the spokesperson said in an email to Global News.

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“It is also an initiative that other jurisdictions have used for many years to address staffing challenges.”

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Shared Health said when working in emergency rooms, paramedics “generally support the monitoring of patients and help with IV starts,” and do not take direct patient care assignments.

“Patient safety is our top priority and we can ensure those who come to HSC Winnipeg receive the care they need without compromise,” Shared Health said in a statement.

“We thank all health care staff for their continued dedication to patient care during these challenging times.”

— with files from Abigail Turner and Keesha Harewood 

© 2022 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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