The Yukon government has announced a pilot project to give Haines Junction better ambulance coverage through the summer months.
The plan is to hire six emergency medical responders as full-time staff to cover daytime shifts from May through September.
Like many Yukon communities, Haines Junction’s emergency medical service is run by a crew of volunteers, who sign up to be on call in case of an emergency.
But filling shifts in Haines Junction in the summer months has been a challenge in the past.
Last year in July two-thirds of the shifts had no volunteers at all, and all but two of the rest had just one volunteer, where two are needed for full coverage.
Since the issue was raised last fall, a working group was established to brainstorm possible solutions.
This year’s pilot project will assess whether having full-time staff through the summer months will address the community’s unique concerns.
“The situation that we’re addressing in Haines Junction is fairly unique to Haines Junction, in that the majority of the volunteer teams who support the community through the remainder of the year are seasonally employed, and are unavailable during the workday hours through the summer months,” said Jeff Simons, director of Yukon EMS.
The government has already started recruiting and training new responders in the community.
In April the government offered community information sessions to learn about the opportunities with EMS, said Simons. Training for those interested has already begun.
“What normally would happen is we would have a recruitment drive in a community and weeks or even months would go by before training was available,” said Simons.
“So this was a shift in strategy to make sure we’re helping the community to provide information to new people, and then as we bring them in, we screen them quickly and provide training for them pretty much right away, so that they don’t lose interest.”
The hope is that the six staff positions will be hired from within the existing and new pool of trained volunteers in Haines Junction, and that the staff will continue to work as volunteers after the summer is over, said Simons.
“There were concerns initially that what we were going to do was replace the existing volunteer model, and that’s not the case,” he said.
The intention is to support and build on the volunteer model, said Simons.
Volunteer EMS responders across the territory are paid $3.50 an hour to be on call. Pay jumps to between $20 and $29 per hour when on active duty.
Dave Weir, a member of the Haines Junction volunteer EMS team, said the pilot staffing project announcement is great news.
Finding six staff could prove to be a challenge, but that’s almost besides the point, he said.
“Let’s say we end up in a place where we only have four of the six staff, because they couldn’t find enough people. We’re still 10 miles ahead of where we were.
“To me, the key thing is that up ‘til now, what we’ve been hearing from YG was, ‘We can’t do anything for you that we don’t do for every other community. These are the only models we have - we can’t step outside that box.’ Now they’ve taken a step outside of the box that’s trying something new that isn’t happening elsewhere. I think that’s great.
“Even if it completely fails, for some unknown reason, which I don’t think it will, but even if that would happen, we’re still further ahead, because we tried.”
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