Mental health among top causes of local paramedic staffing shortages

Mental health is one of the leading causes of staffing shortages in the region, says the paramedic chief.

During a regular Town of Cochrane council meeting on Tuesday (Nov. 14), Jean Carriere, the chief paramedic for the Cochrane District EMS, shared some information about ambulance services, such as staffing issues.

At a Cochrane District Social Services Administration Board (CDSSAB) meeting in October, the board heard that the local EMS is urgently in need of 15 paramedics to meet demands for emergency responses. It was also noted that two years ago they had 110 paramedics rostered and there are currently 84.

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While retirements and the fact that every paramedic service in Ontario is currently hiring were two substantial reasons for their current shortages, PTSD and mental health were other significant factors, Carriere told Cochrane council this week.

“We have several paramedics that are off on mental health injuries and are dealing with that aspect of the job. There’s at least six of our staff. So, when you consider the amount of staff and percentage, that's a significant amount. We're just under 10 per cent of our staff being involved with mental health injury,” Carriere said.

“We do have a very robust support system, but that support system hasn't been in place for their entire career. These are paramedics that have been in their career for many, many years. And, unfortunately, mental health wasn't necessarily a priority and it catches up to you after a while.”

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While they are still staffing the same shift pattern and haven’t eliminated any services, Carriere said their staffing crisis limits how the service can expand and grow, specifically when it comes community paramedicine, for example.

“That also influences the current staff that we have now and being able to allow them to have time off, our overtime rate is, I would say, excessive,” he said.

“And I have to thank the paramedics that are currently working and filling that role. Because without them, we would not be able to staff our ambulances. Some of our paramedics are working 18 or 24-hour shifts to make sure that our ambulances are available within our communities.”

Recruitment tactics were also a topic of conversation during Carriere’s presentation.

“There's several things that we've done to try and bolster our staff. We've petitioned the government to allow a few of our staff who had written their exam and hadn't passed yet to continue working and they've allowed that, and we're also looking at other areas and working with our union and our partners to try and figure out strategies on how we can recruit,” he said.

“We've seen an uptick in college registrations within all the colleges that we're working with.”

An increase in call volumes in the Cochrane district was also discussed. Council members asked Carriere if there was anyone looking into the drastic spike.

RELATED: Paramedics see increase in calls district-wide

“The increase in call volume is, if we look at our demographics, an increase in our aging population. Unfortunately, they’re not getting any younger, and that is causing a strain on the whole healthcare system when it comes to that,” he said.

Marissa Lentz, Local Journalism Initiative,