Three new paramedics to start here

With three new full-time paramedics set to start locally this fall, and a new paramedic program to be offered by Confederation College here next year, ambulance services are looking at a possible end to the staffing shortage that has plagued the district.
One full-time paramedic is slated to begin working here in mid-October, another is said to start in November, and a third has agreed to move here though no start date has been confirmed, Grace Silander, ambulance manager for the West Rainy River District, said Tuesday.
“They are all primary care paramedics and completely qualified when they come in,” she noted.
But while it is good news, Silander said the district is far from having all vacant paramedic positions filled.
Earlier this year, they were seeking nine full-time paramedics and a part-time one. Recently, one more full time paramedic was lost when they chose to return home and another is out on sick leave.
“We still have seven full-time and one part-time open,” Silander said. “At least we’re not drowning, but we are only treading water.”
Still, the fact new staff is on the way is uplifting for local paramedics who have been stretched to the limit to ensure ambulance programs throughout the district are running.
“It gives them quite a boost,” Silander said. “It’s nice when you pick up a paycheque and there is all that overtime, but the paycheque is only good for so long.”
John Beaton, representing the Northwestern Ontario Canadian Union of Public Employees Ambulance Committee of Ontario, agreed hiring new staff will mean a lot to local paramedics.
“It means we can see the light at the end of the tunnel,” he said yesterday. “It will definitely improve the mood around here.
“Right now, we’re all working a lot of overtime, double shifts, and it gets really tiring if you can’t get the time off needed,” he stressed.
One of the proposed solutions to the paramedic staffing shortage here is a program slated to be offered by the local campus of Confederation College next year.
The four-semester diploma program is set to start in January.
“As far as the community college program is concerned, it is very good news. Probably we will be able to get far more locals hopefully,” Silander said.
Graduates of the program will be eligible to write the Ministry of Health’s Advanced Emergency Medical Care Attendant examination, which would qualify them to be employed as paramedics throughout Ontario.
“The cost is fairly high because it is not being funded by the province,” said Anne Renaud, manager of the Confederation College campus here.
Students enrolled in the program will pay an estimated $9,000 per year to complete it, which includes all fees and books.
The college still is evaluating whether to offer the program over two years or have the four semesters continue straight through.
Students enrolled will spend time both in the classroom and in field placements at local hospitals and on ambulances as part of their training.
“Throughout every semester, there will be practical experience. It will be like one or two days a week at the placements,” Renaud noted.
But whether the paramedic diploma gets off the ground here is completely dependent on enrolment. “Fifteen to 20 is what we are looking for. We need a minimum of 15 to run the program,” Renaud said.
Beaton said offering the college program locally could be a major help in training and retaining paramedics here.
“If you can’t get it here, you have to go to Sudbury or North Bay, and you can’t always do that when you have family commitments,” he said.
Beaton added he thought the new course could go a long way in improving working conditions for paramedics throughout the district.