Paramedics leaving N.S. for better pay, working conditions

Chris Hayes chayes@cbpost.com
Published on February 15, 2013
An EHS paramedic leaves with a patient from the Cape Breton Regional Hospital on Thursday.
STEVE WADDEN - CAPE BRETON POST

SYDNEY — Nova Scotia’s paramedics are leaving for better-paying jobs in Western Canada, including those with advanced training.

Union leader Terry Chapman said an estimated 60 to 90 advanced-care paramedics who have left in the last year and a half are also seeking better working conditions.  

Chapman said advanced-care paramedics who leave are mostly being replaced by primary-care paramedics, who have less training.

“My particular concern with that is the continuance of advanced care in the province,” Chapman said Thursday. “A seasoned advanced-care provider can provide two-thirds more critical care to a sick or injured patient than a primary-care paramedic.”

An advanced-care paramedic, for instance, can administer clot-busting drugs to people suffering a stroke or heart attack, but a primary-care paramedic can’t, said Chapman.

“They give it to you immediately the clot-busting drug ... and then off you go to the hospital, along with other cessation drugs, IV therapy, intubation therapy should you become unresponsive in your airway tract, that type of thing. Those are advanced skills.

“A primary-care paramedic can’t do that, can’t do a lot of that.”

Chapman said advanced-care paramedics in Nova Scotia earning $62,000 after five years are likely being paid between $80,000 and $90,000 in Alberta, and some are pulling down higher salaries.

“The money is there but it’s not just that,” he said.

Chapman said paramedics are also leaving because of working conditions, for instance, when those who call in sick are not replaced, leaving remaining personnel at an ambulance station overworked.

“Morale is at an all-time low.”

There are about 749 paramedics registered with the Nova Scotia union, the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 727, including between 290 and 315 in Cape Breton, he said.

A company called Medavie HealthEd is training paramedics at a Dartmouth school that has a satellite campus in Glace Bay.

Paramedics across the province are voting on a final offer from their employer, which should be finished in late February or early March.

The Cape Breton Post tried without success to reach Health and Wellness Minister David Wilson on Thursday for his take on the concerns raised by paramedics.

chayes@cbpost.com