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More paramedics needed to meet demand, chief says

Due to an increase in call volumes, the Durham Region’s Paramedic Services chief will be looking to bring on more staff in 2018. (Photo by Colin Williamson)

Citing increased call volumes and new provincial legislation, a request to hire seven new full-time staff has been made by the region’s Paramedic Services chief.

During discussions regarding the region’s economic outlook over the next decade at a recent committee of the whole meeting, Chief Troy Cheseboro said the need for additional staff can be attributed to several factors.

This past August, the Wynne government announced it would be investing $222 million over three years to combat the rising opioid crisis in Ontario, as the number of related deaths in the province has increased by 485 per cent since 1991.

Cheseboro said this new focus will mean changes for his department.

“We are working with our union partners to establish new criteria as outlined and required by the Ministry of Labour.”

Adding staff will allow paramedics more time to recuperate from distressing incidents, Cheseboro stated.

“It’s that downtime between calls we need to allow for the paramedics to recover from a mental health call. So this is why we are hoping the additional positions are available to decrease the number of individual calls to respond too.”

Citing studies that suggest paramedics have the highest suicide rate among emergency service workers, Oshawa councillor Dan Carter questioned Cheseboro whether hiring this additional staff would give “the [region] the capacity to meet the mental health needs of paramedics.”

While he assured the well-being of paramedics is unquestionably an issue of concern, Chesboro explained the region already has services available to assist staff after traumatic calls.

“We contact the paramedic immediately after a call and they decide what they want to do,” he said.

However, he believes cases should be treated on an individual basis.

“We don’t force them off [work) because that isn’t always good and there’s a lot of data to show that as well.”

In response, Carter said paramedics are currently afforded six psychiatric visits as a result of a traumatic work experience, while police officers and firefighters have unlimited visits, leading him to enquire if the Paramedic Services’ budget for 2018 would include specific requests for funding to increase mental health services for paramedics.

“We have [staff] who are absolutely desperate for assistance. I’m hoping we will be able to see an investment so those [staff] will see that their concerns are being dealt with.”

Referring back to resources that are already available, Cheseboro said those financial considerations fall under the Corporate Services budget, not those of his department.

Carter also voiced his frustration that the economic outlook report did not mention a strategic plan to deal with opioid use in the region.

“This is the number one health issue that is affecting our community and region at this time.”

However, Durham medical officer of health Dr. Robert Kyle explained his submissions for the economic outlook report were made before the provincial government’s announcements in August.

“This is a new line of business for us. At the time we prepared our submission, one, we were unaware this was coming down the pike and two, we were unaware there would be funding,” Kyle said. “I can tell you it will be part of our budget in 2018.”