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Huntingdon paramedics hope funding could end shift work

The government’s recently announced action plan to improve the province’s prehospital emergency system provided a glimmer of hope for Huntingdon paramedics, who are alone in the Montérégie working on-call shift hours.

The province announced it will spend nearly $630 million over the next five years on ambulance services, including at least $1.3 million that will be directed to the Montérégie-Centre region to convert shift schedules or add hours of service. All ambulance services in the Montérégie are directed through the Centre integré de services de santé et de services sociaux de la Montérégie-Centre (CISSSMC), including those based in Huntingdon.

Huntingdon paramedics with Paraxion are the only ones in the Montérégie still working on call shift hours PHOTO Sarah Rennie

According to the Ministry of Health, these funds will be allocated in addition to funding released in 2022 that allowed for the conversion of 46 shift schedules to set hourly schedules, including those worked by paramedics in Hemmingford. On-call shift work has now been abolished in all areas of the Montérégie except for Huntingdon, where Paraxion provides prehospital services to the town as well as the western territory of the Haut-Saint-Laurent including Godmanchester, Hinchinbrooke, Elgin, Sainte-Barbe, Saint-Anicet, and Dundee.

“Huntingdon is in a particular situation,” says Mathieu Lacombe, a spokesperson for the Syndicat des paramédics et du préhospitalier de la Montérégie (SPPM-CSN). On-call paramedics are on duty 24 hours a day for seven consecutive days at home and must first get to their ambulance before leaving to respond to an emergency, while those working set hours are already at a station or in their ambulance waiting for calls, he explains.

“Right now, we have good service in Huntingdon,” says Lacombe. The closure of the Larocque Bridge linking Saint-Stanislas-de-Kostka with Salaberry-de-Valleyfield in January created a temporary situation in which shift work for Huntingdon paramedics was converted to an hourly schedule. Presently, there are two regular ambulances available during the day as well as one ambulance overnight, he explains. This exception is set to end on April 7, when paramedics will return to shift work.

Lacombe says the situation is unfortunate, both for the paramedics and for the local population. He reports that on February 5, paramedics were called to an emergency in Huntingdon involving a 61-year-old patient. The 9-1-1 call was received at 11:32 a.m. and because paramedics were already in place, they arrived on scene at 11:40 a.m. The team worked quickly, and the patient was resuscitated by 11:43 a.m.

According to Lacombe it was the second ambulance that intervened, as the first was responding to another call. He says there is no doubt the paramedics were able to respond as quickly as they did because they were working regular hours and were not at home when the emergency call was received.

According to The Last Ambulance Project, which tracks the average response times for ambulances for the most critical emergencies, the average wait time for a priority 0 call in Huntingdon is 18.03 minutes, 19.67 minutes in Godmanchester, 22.5 minutes in Hinchinbrooke, 24.12 minutes in Saint-Anicet, and 38.5 minutes in Dundee. Times in Ormstown, where there is a station, average 15.62 minutes, and similarly, those in nearby Haut-Saint-Laurent municipalities served by Ormstown, including Franklin, Havelock, Howick, Saint-Chrysostome, and Très-Saint-Sacrement, are lower averaging 16.7 minutes.

“Shift work can be effective in very rural areas, but the population is growing, and this no longer applies to Huntingdon,” says Lacombe, noting the delays in shift work create added stress on paramedics, who are all too aware of how every second can count when responding to an emergency.

The Huntingdon paramedics are also important to the regional network, which he says is currently overloaded. “Each zone is backed up by another,” he explains, suggesting Huntingdon could be called to Ormstown or Valleyfield, or vice-versa, depending on where there is a need.

He adds that there has been no indication whether the funds announced by the government to convert shift schedules will apply to Huntingdon. The SPPM-CSN has asked for an urgent meeting with Huntingdon MNA Carole Mallette to discuss the situation. The town of Huntingdon and some neighbouring municipalities have also passed resolutions in support of the local paramedics.

“We hope to receive good news,” says Lacombe.

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