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Paramedics union reminds public they are essential service

By Chris Jones/The Oshawa Express

The Durham Region local paramedics union is reassuring residents they are not going anywhere, and are in fact an essential service.

Andrew Moore, a board member of CUPE 1764 and active paramedic, told The Oshawa Express himself and all other paramedics want the public to know they aren’t going anywhere during and after the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We are an essential public service. We will be here before, during, and after this pandemic for the public when they call 911,” says Moore. “We are just not an essential service in terms of bargaining.”

He explains the reason paramedics aren’t considered an essential service in Ontario is a “complex answer.”

“We are an essential public service, who will be there for the public before, during and after this pandemic when they call 911. We are not considered essential for the purposes of bargaining like our fire and police counterparts,” explains Moore.

Moore explains in the fight against COVID-19, paramedics are taking several precautions to protect themselves, beginning with the dispatch centre screening callers for COVID-19 symptoms.

“We’re asking people to please be as honest as possible when they’re asking these questions,” he says. “Help will always come whether you have symptoms or not, it just helps us determine what level of protective equipment we need to wear into the call and handle your emergency.”

Moore explains it is currently recommended paramedics wear a face shield, or a protective eyewear with a M95 mask, a gown and gloves.

While other areas have been running low on supplies, Moore says Durham is in good shape when it comes to personal protective equipment. He adds with the fluidity of the situation, things change and they are beginning to need to wear more equipment on calls.

“We’re working through our joint health and safety committee with our management team to make sure that our paramedics have what they need for their personal protective equipment,” Moore says.

Moore also notes paramedics have set up a policy with Lakeridge Health to protect themselves, as well as other frontline workers.

“When we bring in somebody with confirmed COVID-19 symptoms, we are limiting the exposure for the first responder, the nurse, and the other patients that are in the ER,” he explains.

They have a policy in place so the patients can be properly screened and tested at the hospital which protects everyone. They’ve also been cleaning everything touched by the patient with bleach, as well as the ambulance after a potential COVID-19 call.

“At this time we’re very comfortable with how we’re protecting our paramedics from a joint health and safety perspective,” says Moore.

However, one issue Moore has is with how little sick time part-time staff have, which is none.

“Right now they don’t have any sick time… so that’s something from a union perspective we’re going to have to address moving forward, and it’s on our radar as we speak,” he says.

Moore, who is currently an active paramedic, says he has yet to see a confirmed case of COVID-19 himself, but he has gone to sites of potential cases, and he can’t deny it does bring up some nerves.

“There is some nerves about taking this home for ourselves and our families, but I think I know with our training and our personal protective equipment, that we’re doing to best to protect ourselves, and that brings me a little more at ease,” he says. “But for sure, I think everybody has that worry about bringing it home to their families and themselves.”

Moore says he hasn’t heard of any paramedics in Durham Region who have caught the virus, but he says there has been one in Toronto.

“But that is the only one I’m aware of at this time,” he says.

Moore also wishes to thank the public for the work they’ve done in making sure paramedics and other first responders have the help they need.

“We’ve seen [the community’s support] in many ways, from signs outside our bases, to food donations, we’ve seen local businesses step up to produce hand sanitizer and face shields, and we’d also like to acknowledge everyone who’s taking part in social distancing and staying home,” he says. “There’s so many ways the community is supporting us in helping fight this pandemic, and we’d like to say thank you.”