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SHA adding 24 paramedics to Regina to address shortages

Union leader Karen Wasylenko said the hiring was a “very good first step” to ease the pressure on the existing workforce.

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Saskatchewan intends to add a number of new paramedics to emergency services in Regina to address employee burnout and long 911 waits across the province.

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The Saskatchewan Health Department announced on Wednesday that Regina will add a total of 24.5 full-time paramedic positions over the next three months.

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Once the additional staff is hired, it will allow Regina Emergency Medical Services to staff two more ambulances, for a total of 13 units available during day shifts.

It will also facilitate the establishment of two paramedic response units, consisting of an advanced care paramedic who can respond to emergency calls early on the scene before ambulances arrive, or assist primary care paramedics with complex cases.

Two EMS coordinators will also be added to facilitate clinical training and quality assurance.

The announcement follows passionate calls from healthcare unions to strain emergency rooms and emergency services as patients in Saskatchewan continue to see overcrowded emergency rooms and long waits.

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Karen Wasylenko, president of the Health Sciences Association of Saskatchewan, said adding more paramedics to the system was “a step in the right direction” to address the ongoing pressure on the current staff.

The paramedics are still overworked and have problems, Vasylenko said on Wednesday. It’s a reality she’s previously outlined, as EMS members continue to work busy shifts under the burden of chronic staff shortages, overcrowded emergency rooms and little relief.

“We are pleased that staff shortages are being recognized and addressed as a significant issue,” she said.

In the fall, the health agency acknowledged that paramedic teams at Regina General Hospital are often off-duty with one ambulance on each shift due to staffing shortages. HSAS countered that it was more realistic for crews to be undermanned by more than one rig during a shift.

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“They continue to have the same service requirements,” Vasylenko said. “I hope this takes the pressure off so that they can continue to stay involved and stay true to our profession.”

Call volume in Regina has increased by more than 14 percent between 2020 and 2022, which the province says is partially contributing to longer wait times for patients. Dispatch took over 31,000 calls in 2022, up from 27,000 the year before.

Regina EMS operates with a target response time of less than nine minutes, 90 percent of the time, for the most urgent calls.

Statistics provided in the fall showed that ambulances had an average response time of just over six minutes for life-threatening calls and just over 9 minutes for more urgent calls.

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Saskatchewan suffers from a statewide paramedic shortage, Rod MacKenzie, executive director of Provincial Services and Community Care, said in November.

Vasylenko said adding jobs is “a very good first step,” but the province needs a plan for recruiting and retaining employees to successfully fill the new positions.

“Where are they supposed to get these professionals from?” she asked.

The health agency is working with the province on these initiatives, but the health ministry has not responded to a request for details in time for publication.

In addition to the job offers, the training capacities are also being expanded. Post-secondary primary care paramedic placements increased from 152 to 252 at Saskatchewan Polytechnic and regional colleges as part of the province’s plan to hire 1,000 more health workers over the next few years.

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The Saskatchewan Health Department will fund the announced new jobs through its $2.4 million annual cost EMS budget.

There are currently 28 vacant paramedic positions at the health department, all located outside of the province’s major cities.

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