Paramedic pilot proposal for three stations postponed until fall

The Manitoulin-Sudbury District Services Board paramedic stations pilot project for Gore Bay and Little Current is on hold.

GORE BAY – A pilot proposal for both the Gore Bay and Chapleau paramedic stations going to a 24 hour, seven days a week deployment service (for 14 weeks) and for Little Current paramedic services station going to a seven day per week, 12 hour a day transport ambulance station (also for 14 weeks) has been postponed to this fall. 

“The proposal has been postponed until the fall,” Fern Dominelli, CAO of the Manitoulin-Sudbury District Services Board (DSB). “It requires additional staffing and hours and with COVID we don’t have the staff.” Mr. Dominelli pointed out that through a coordinated process, all DSB paramedics had their first COVID-19 vaccine. However, only one-third of the paramedics have had their second vaccine, and this second dose is not being coordinated so “at this point it is unsure when everyone will have their second shot.”

Paul Myre, chief of paramedic services told the DSB at a meeting June 24, “in the fall of 2020, then (chief of paramedic services Rob Smith) brought the proposed pilot to the board that would see the movement of both Chapleau and Gore Bay paramedic services stations to a 24/7 deployment for 14 weeks and the seven day per day transport ambulance out of the Little Current paramedic station (also for 14 weeks). Staff have remained cognizant of the current fiscal climate and the many unknowns that surround it. Staff have continued approaching the planning process in a very prudent manner and continue to assess the viability and practicality of deploying this pilot during an unprecedented period of uncertainty.”

“While planning on all three models are ongoing, the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic and staffing pressures have presented a need for re-evaluation of the risk-benefit ratio with deploying these pilots,” continued Mr. Myre. “Staff believe that it would not be prudent to deploy the three pilots at this time as much of our paramedics have yet to receive the second injection of their COVID-19 vaccine and we anticipate some operational pressures due to the reported varying side effects that accompany the second dose.” 

Mr. Myre further explained staff had attempted to mitigate these impacts by strategically staggering first dose vaccines for paramedics to avoid anticipated increased sick time and the inevitable mass staffing shortages that would ensue. However, due to the increasing and stable supply of vaccines, the province recently pivoted to the 120-day sequencing timeframe and have moved up front line health workers to receive their second dose effective immediately. “We have attempted to work with our public health partners with the hope to balance the importance of vaccinations and the provision of emergency services but due to the rigidity of the vaccination schedule, a controlled staggered approach is not possible. Staff believe the consequences of potentially disrupting the sequencing for our paramedics to be vaccinated far outweigh the cost of managing staffing pressures. That being said, the risk of having a mass staffing shortage which could potentially quickly cascade into having to down-staff ambulances is a risk that we need to prepare for and take necessary measures to mitigate impacts as best as we can.”

“Staff are seeking approval to defer the pilots until at least the fall of 2021 where we anticipate a more stable workforce to support staffing requirements,” Mr. Myre told the DSB board. “Staff will continue to re-analyze the proposed models during the deferral to assess their feasibility and whether or not we should course correct given the new normal.”

The board granted the request. “We are being cautious but we have delayed the proposal until the fall,” said Mr. Dominelli.