The shortage of paramedics in Nova Scotia has become well known, but newly published government figures show they are leaving the workforce in record numbers.
In just the first nine months of this year, there were 100 vacancies in the paramedic service, according to information released to the provincial NDP through a freedom of information request.
That’s up from 57 paramedic vacancies in 2017. Though that number dropped to 41 the following year, it has been rising steadily since 2019, when 64 vacancies were recorded. Last year, there were 75.
The province’s ambulance service has said it is working hard to replace those paramedics, but there are fears that vacancies are outstripping the number of new recruits.
The NDP’s health critic, Susan Leblanc, said paramedics are burning out, partly due to ambulance offloading difficulties that are a result of staffing and care problems inside hospitals.
“Paramedics are finding themselves literally unable to do their jobs, because they are with one patient at an emergency department for hours and hours waiting for them to be able to be taken on by the department, and so unable to answer calls, so this is obviously very stressful,” said Leblanc, the MLA for Dartmouth North.
“Unless the systemic issues in the health-care system are addressed … and addressed in a timely way, then this will keep happening.”
Mike Nickerson, business agent for the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 727, said paramedics are leaving the job in Nova Scotia for a variety of reasons, but mostly due to long hours and low pay compared to other jurisdictions.
“The working conditions have not improved for the paramedics of this province,” he said. “If anything, they’ve actually gotten worse.”
Recruiting out of province
In an email, Emergency Health Services said only a handful of the vacancies are permanent and the numbers change regularly as staff move around or switch to new roles in the system.
EHS said 86 people have been hired so far this year and it is working on recruiting more.
It said one of its key strategies is to recruit experienced paramedics from other provinces. More than 20 of the new hires this year are new to Nova Scotia.
The ambulance provider said it has struck an internal task force to find new ways to recruit and retain staff and is working closely with the new provincial Office of Healthcare Professionals Recruitment.
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