Northeastern Ontario districts facing paramedic shortages

Northeastern Ontario districts facing paramedic shortages

Manitoulin-Sudbury says it’s running at a 38 per cent deficit for part-time paramedics
CBC News · Posted: Oct 18, 2023 3:39 PM EDT | Last Updated: October 18

The Cochrane District Social Services Administration Board says two years ago it had 110 paramedics, and now it’s down to 84 (Yvon Theriault/Radio-Canada)

Many paramedic services across northeastern Ontario say they are dealing with staffing shortages that affect their responses.

Paul Myre, chief of paramedic services with the Manitoulin-Sudbury District Services Board, said the service is currently short on part-time paramedics, who provide relief when full-time staff are off due to vacation time, illness or other reasons.

"We normally have 56 part-time employees," Myre said. "We're running at about 34, 35 currently."

Myre said staffing shortages for paramedic services, and in health care more generally, aren't unique to his region, but are affecting all parts of Ontario and Canada.

While the part-time staff shortage hasn't affected response times, Myre said, it has had an impact on other areas.

"What ends up being stretched is the time on scene and the transport time to a hospital," he said.

Paul Myre is the chief of paramedic services for the Manitoulin-Sudbury District Services Board. (Submitted by Paul Myre)

Myre said the long-term solution to address the staffing shortage is to encourage more people to become paramedics and work closely with colleges to hire new graduates.

To that end, he said the Manitoulin-Sudbury District Services Board has been giving presentations at high schools and elementary schools to promote the profession.

Myre said the province's Learn and Stay program for paramedics in northern Ontario should also help with recruitment in the longer term.

The program covers all tuition and ancillary fees for paramedic students from northern Ontario, if they work in the region after they graduate.

Jean Carriere, director of health with the Cochrane District Social Services Administration Board, said two years ago the district had 110 paramedics, and now it's down to 84.

"We definitely need more paramedics across the district," he said.

Carriere said the staffing reductions are due to retirements, attrition and some paramedics going to work elsewhere.

He said while they haven't seen a "significant increase" in response times, there have been times when ambulances from neighbouring communities have had to respond to calls.

"There are more instances where somebody is calling 911 and all of our ambulances are busy," Carriere said.

He said in a recent case, someone needed an ambulance in Cochrane, and they had to send in paramedics from Iroquois Falls instead, which takes around 20 minutes.

As in the Manitoulin-Sudbury district, Carriere said increasing intake of new paramedics from northern Ontario colleges will be important to address the staffing shortage.

He said the Cochrane district is the first in Ontario to pay students who do their placements in the region to encourage them to work there when they graduate. 

Nipissing District well staffed

But not all districts in the region say they have staffing shortages.

Mark King chairs the Nipissing District Social Services Administrative Board and said their paramedic services are currently well staffed.

"We aren't experiencing any shortages at this point," he said.

King said the district has had long-standing relationships with local colleges who train new graduates. Many go on to work for their paramedic services.

He said those relationships, to attract new graduates, are getting more important as many regions struggle to attract enough new workers.