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Rural ambulance upgrades are a long time coming

A few days ago, Watson Lake got two new paramedics from Outside.The ambulance attendants are acting as interim support until the town’s…

A few days ago, Watson Lake got two new paramedics from Outside.

The ambulance attendants are acting as interim support until the town’s ambulance crisis is resolved.

They are earning between $55,350 and $58,185 annually.

After Watson Lake’s frustrated volunteers walked off the job on July 9th, the government sent in rural ambulance supervisor Barry Kidd to take care of emergency calls.

A volunteer was rustled up to drive the ambulance.

A week later, Kidd was replaced by auxiliary on-call government employees.

“They just kept switching them out,” said Watson CAO Rick Harder on Thursday.

After Dawson City’s volunteer ambulance corps walked out on July 12, the government had difficulty manning both posts.

“They were short-staffed,” said Harder.

“That’s why they hired these two paramedics from Outside.”

But even with its two new attendants, Watson Lake is struggling.

“We still only have one ambulance,” said Harder.

“We don’t have anyone to man the second.”

If the paramedics are out of town on a call, and another call comes in, there’s no one to drive that second ambulance, he said.

“And we cover a large geographic area.”

A month after ambulance workers walked off the job, the government issued a press release.

“The time has come to upgrade the Yukon government’s emergency services to provide a well-co-ordinated first response to emergencies in our communities,” said Premier Dennis Fentie in the release.

The government plans to “create a modernized, co-ordinated emergency first response system,” states the release.

But so far, things haven’t changed in the communities.

“It’s not as good news as one might think by listening to the rhetoric,” said Harder.

“They keep saying things are going to be resolved, but we don’t know when — we’re not privy to any of the details.

“We’re all in the dark here — they’re treating us like mushrooms.”

After walking off the job, Dawson ambulance supervisor Margie Baikie is also in the dark.

“I haven’t been around the nursing station,” she said Thursday.

Dawson has government employees coming out of Whitehorse to staff the ambulance.

“We might only have one,” said Baikie.

Dawson mayor John Steins was also out of the loop.

“No one in the office knows what’s going on with the ambulance service,” he said Friday.

“We’ve tried to check with (Health Minister Brad) Cathers’ office, but they’re not that forthcoming.”

There’s an ambulance in Dawson and at least one attendant, said Steins.

But there is no volunteer service.

After signing off, Baikie and five other rural ambulance workers met regularly to try and come up with a solution.

Two weeks ago, the rural ambulance team gave the government a document with its suggestions for improvement.

“We haven’t heard from (the government) since,” said Baikie.

It took the team three weeks to put the package together.

“It’s quite hard work, to tell you the truth,” she said.

“It’s mentally draining.”

The negotiating team met six or seven times, “for hours on end,” she said.

“It took us three weeks to put something together, so I’m sure it’s going to take the government a little bit of time to look it over and see what they can do.

“Nobody wants a hasty decision.”

The negotiating team was created in April, three months before volunteer ambulance workers walked off the job.

During the biannual rural ambulance supervisors meeting, a lot of issues were brought to the table, said Baikie.

So the government suggested the rural ambulance crew put together a negotiating team.

“But when we signed off, I did not put two and two together that the same negotiating team was going to be negotiating for Dawson and Watson and all the other communities,” said Baikie.

“And this has caused some problems, with in-house politics and miscommunications that have been going on.”

There are only six people on the negotiating team, but there are 14 rural communities, she said.

“And everyone has different concerns and different issues.”

Team chair Neale Wortley is bringing forth the concerns of rural communities that aren’t represented, she added.

And it is Wortley who is in communication with the government, said Baikie.

“But up to this point, we haven’t heard anything.”

Cathers was not going to be in his office for the next few days, said government spokesperson Albert Petersen on Thursday.

Was he on holiday?

“He has a few days off,” said Petersen.

A few minutes later, Petersen called back.

“He is spending the next few days with his constituents,” he said.

But Cathers wasn’t at his constituency office either.

“He’s not coming in today,” said Cathers’ acting executive assistant.

“And we’re not expecting him tomorrow.”

Wortley could not be reached before press time.