Primary care paramedics coming

The territory’s ambulances service has changed hands. Community Services Minister Glenn Hart was handed responsibility for Emergency Medical…

The territory’s ambulances service has changed hands.

Community Services Minister Glenn Hart was handed responsibility for Emergency Medical Services on Wednesday.

Health Minister Brad Cathers was stripped of the file.

As part of the transfer, the government plans to pay for professional primary care paramedics in most rural communities.

“We announced the time has come to modernize and integrate the Yukon’s emergency system,” said Premier Dennis Fentie on Thursday.

“And one of the ways that has to be done is by putting it under one umbrella.

“It doesn’t make sense in today’s Yukon to have parallel processes when it come to emergency services.”

Pauline Lund doesn’t agree.

“They’re passing the buck,” said Watson Lake’s ambulance supervisor.

“We’re an essential service,” she said.

“And we do a huge amount of calls compared to search and rescue and fire.”

On Monday, the Yukon’s volunteer ambulance crews received a proposal from government.

“They wanted an answer really quick,” said Lund.

The proposal outlined a pay scale for volunteers, discussed training and limited the number of crewmembers on-call at any one time to two.

It didn’t say anything about hiring primary care paramedics.

Lund heard about this on the radio.

“Part of the modernization development will include recruiting full-time primary care paramedics for Watson Lake, Dawson City and other communities where necessary,” said a government press release issued late Wednesday afternoon.

“These will be supported by community-based emergency medical services volunteers.”

It won’t work, said Lund.

“People would be pretty stupid to work as a volunteer when you know that one person on board is being paid,” she said.

On Thursday, one of Lund’s volunteer ambulance attendants quit.

“She called me and said, ‘If you think I’m going to work for $2.50 an hour while the guy next to me is getting paid, forget it.’”

Lund assumed it was a misunderstanding.

“Then I heard on the radio they’re hiring primary care paramedics,” said Lund.

“And I thought, how come they know and we don’t?”

There are still a lot of blanks that need to be filled in, said Dawson’s ambulance co-supervisor Margie Baikie on Thursday.

“From the news, it sounds like we would be getting paramedics,” she said.

“But would they be local? That’s a grey area.”

If full-time paramedic positions become available, Baikie would like to see them filled by Dawson volunteers.

“They could hire temporary paramedics while we get trained up as primary care paramedics,” she said.

“Then two volunteers would be able to step into the role and take that over.”

The eight members of Dawson’s volunteer ambulance crew are picking up their radios next week.

“We’re happy,” said Baikie.

“Watson Lake was big on the issue of standby pay,” she said.

“And we wanted full-time attendants.

“I would prefer to have a paramedic go save someone versus someone who doesn’t have as high an education in that level.”

But primary care paramedics might be over-qualified, said Lund.

“In the 16 years I’ve been doing it, very rarely have we ever needed anyone more than an emergency medical responder at the scene,” she said.

“Whatever is done to the patient is usually done in the hospital.”

Lund had hoped standby pay for volunteers would start at $5 an hour.

The recent government proposal starts at half that.

“It looks like we would start at $2.50 an hour for 2007-08,” said Baikie, reading from the e-mail.

Every year it is supposed to go up by 50 cents, she said.

“It would increase to $3 on April 1st. But on April 1st 2009, it goes up to $3.25, so that’s not even a 50-cent increase. Then March 31, 2010 it would go to $3.50.”

The interim primary care paramedics currently working in Watson Lake and Dawson are earning between $55,350 and $58,185 annually.

To date, costs associated with the attendants’ per diems, hotel bills, travel costs and flights have come to $17,406, according to information obtained through an access to information request filed by the Liberal caucus.

“If the government is going to hire primary care paramedics, they have to be prepared for the cost,” said Lund.

“And it’s going to be huge to the taxpayers.

“They can’t just bring in one primary care paramedic and say they’re going to run the ambulance.

“Because we’re not going to work for $2.50 while the next guys get paid full wages — that’s hardly fair.”

To run effectively, Watson Lake needs eight paramedics, said Lund.

Although Lund lobbied for it, Watson Lake’s crew was never offered primary care training.

“They are going to have to hire eight out-of-towners,” she said.

With government looking at introducing 911 to the communities, call volume is going to go up, said Baikie.

“Because the ambulance will have to go to every ring now, there will be no call screening.”

Baikie is hoping the full-time paramedics will work during the day, so volunteers aren’t torn away from their jobs.

The rural ambulance service has been ignored for years, said Lund.

“And that’s partially due to the fault of volunteers,” she said.

“We’ve been covering for the government by not making them pay us and stuff like that.”

 “Adding paramedics, addressing equipment and remuneration for volunteers, more training and more recognition — it’s all the big package of integrating, modernizing, and delivering the best possible response that we can,” said Fentie.

Emergency medical services will move to Community Services protective service branch in December, said Community Services Minister Glen Hart on Friday.

“We will continue to meet with key stakeholders, staff and volunteers, to decide how best to meet the needs of the community,” he said.

The government will be hiring a minimum of two primary care paramedics for Watson Lake and Dawson.

Hart could not say if there were current volunteers qualified for the positions.

Hiring locally is a possibility, he said.

“Anything is possible.

“But the priority is getting qualified paramedics. We’ll be going there first, to ensure public safety right off the bat.”