Overwhelmed and faced with a shortage of manpower, Urgences-santé paramedics are struggling to cope with the influx of calls.
During last weekend’s night shift, only half of the planned personnel were on site to respond to emergencies in the Montreal and Laval region.
“I’ve been here for 37 years and I’ve never seen the situation so bad,” said Luc Beaumont, spokesman for the Federation of Health and Social Services (FSSS).
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According to Chantal Comeau, spokesperson for Urgencse-santé, only 53 of the 106 scheduled paramedics showed up over the weekend, leaving only a fleet of 25 ambulances to cover the territory.
“We have 1,000 calls a day for both islands and 25 ambulances to cover the night shift is not enough,” Beaumont said.
With limited resources, teams are forced to make tough decisions when triaging calls, leading to sometimes fatal mistakes, Beaumont said.
A patient died while waiting several hours before paramedics arrived.
“A low priority call was delayed so long, when the team was finally dispatched to call, they arrived and the person was dead,” Beaumont said.
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Comeau says the incident is being investigated to see if delays played a role.
Comeau called the weekend’s events rare, saying a labor shortage coupled with paramedics on COVID-19 preventative leave is the reason for the lack of first responders on duty during the weekend shift. end.
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“At times, longer delays should be expected when the call is not urgent, as we focus all our resources on having a quick response when a life may be in danger,” said Comeau.
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She says call centers have seen a surge in demand since the good weather, handling 1,400 calls a day.
“On days like last weekend, every effort is made to ensure a quick response to high priority calls. But longer delays are to be expected,” Comeau said.
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Forced to take over, paramedics are overworked, Beaumont says, with teams forced to work 16-hour shifts if necessary.
He says last weekend was no exception. Forced overtime has become commonplace among first responders.
“For the past two months, we’ve been taking preemptive action pretty much every day,” Beaumont said.
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“When I say they are mentally and physically exhausted, that’s no exaggeration. To say they are demoralized is an understatement,” said retired paramedic Hal Newman of active duty first responders.
Newman is now closely following and reporting on industry issues. On his Facebook page, the Last Ambulance, hundreds of first responders confided in him reporting difficult working conditions.
Newman called the recent staffing weekend a crisis, which has been in the works for some time.
“These doctors are already exhausted and then they are told ‘you stay until four in the morning and there will be no break’. It’s just going to be call after call and the patients you’re going to see have been waiting for hours. “Said Newman. “It’s the heavy burden that paramedics have to carry on their shoulders.”
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“We are experiencing a challenge for the night shift, but it is not as big as last weekend. We will be monitoring the situation closely,” Comeau said of the current roster.
Urgences-sante is conducting a hiring campaign to increase the number of first responders on the road.
Comeau says the health authority is also looking to hire nurses to help answer emergency phone calls to the center to offer secondary assessment.
Comeau urges the public to consider the severity of his injury before dialing 9-1-1, while reminding the public that a certified nurse is always available to assess patients over the phone by dialing 8-1-1 .
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