Paramedics Launch Campaign to Highlight Ambulance Shortage

A firefighter and paramedic wheel an injured cyclist on stretcher to an ambulance on St. Mary Avenue September 6, 2010. (WPGCAMERAMAN / CHRISD.CA)

Paramedics are launching an advertising campaign today to highlight the growing problem of ambulances not being readily available when they’re needed in Winnipeg.

The radio campaign will be accompanied by a new website that will underline the risk to public safety if something isn’t done to rectify the problem.

“Over the recent past, we have tried to bring this serious issue to the attention of the City of Winnipeg hoping for a solution that will keep Winnipeg families safer and healthier, but we have seen only band-aid solutions to addressing what we feel should be a major issue in the current municipal election,” said Chris Broughton, president of Paramedics of Winnipeg, MGEU Local 911. “Our hope is that when people understand the scope of the problem, they will begin to ask questions of all candidates seeking political office. Ultimately, we want to see a concrete, coherent plan for how to deal with this because right now lives are being put at risk. It’s that simple.”

According to paramedics, there hasn’t been an increase in ambulance resources, EMS call centre personnel or paramedics in the last five years. Despite the standstill, call volumes for EMS have increased by 17% in that same time period. In the past three years, EMS calls are up 44.3%.

The paramedics’ union says the city has reduced the number of positions in the 911 call centre to one position per 12 hour shift. Earlier this month, Mayor Sam Katz announced a plan to hire more staff for the police call centre, adding 19 new positions by 2012.

Industry standards state that one ambulance should be available at all times for every 30,000 citizens. In 2009, the ratio was one ambulance for every 37,505 citizens in Winnipeg. Adding five more ambulances to the road would bring the city up to par with national standards, the paramedics say.

“The ultimate risk to Winnipeg families could be devastating if these issues aren’t addressed,” Broughton said. “In cases of strokes or heart attacks, when immediate transport to hospital is necessary or when the administration of clot busting drugs is crucial, this shortage is literally about life and death.”