Paramedics at ‘tipping point’ during COVID-19 pandemic

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Toronto paramedics are sounding the alarm on the additional workload and stress they face due to more COVID-19-related medical calls and an increase in cases.
The union that represents them says more help is needed on the front lines to ease the tension.

“It’s stressful. It is demoralizing. We are completely exhausted and beaten, ”says a paramedic who spoke to CityNews, but chose not to be identified, in order to protect him from any consequences for speaking out.

“We come into work every day knowing that overtime has been requested, that we are short-staffed, that the volume of calls is critical,” he said. “We’re really running half empty.”

He describes a typical day as a day without bathroom breaks, quick meals sitting on the bumper of an ambulance, continually disinfecting vehicles and constantly changing personal protective equipment (PPE) between calls.

Mike Merriman, president of the CUPE Local 416 paramedic unit, believes more full-time employees could be hired.

“They’ve reached the breaking point,” Merriman said. “There weren’t enough staff before COVID and they didn’t add any additional paramedics during COVID.”

Toronto Paramedic Services told CityNews that there are currently 1,119 full-time physicians and 243 part-time. Only 166 were hired last year to cover attrition.

When it comes to any additional support, Paramedic Gord McEachen said the primary focus is on communicating with staff about their needs.

“We have been very diligent in providing the most recent information from our colleagues in public health,” he said. “So we really tried to improve our level of mental health support for staff with various entry points.

According to the latest data, the number of paramedic emergency calls in 2020 was the lowest since 2016. There were 307,873 calls last year compared to 336,573 in 2019. Despite the decline in call volumes, paramedics say the cost is much higher. higher due to the pandemic.

Paramedic emergency calls from 2016 to 2020

The paramedic who spoke to CityNews stressed that he was not complaining. He enjoys his job, understands the importance and appreciates the extra effort that other frontline workers put in. But he worries about his safety while trying to take care of others at the same time.

“I’m still reluctant to go home and kiss my new wife after a day where we’ve seen a lot of COVID patients,” he said. “I mean sometimes I won’t even go upstairs. I’m gonna hang out in my basement.

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